“Nonmonogamous People All Have STBBIs” and Three Other Myths About Nonmonogamy


Are nonmonogamous relationships really conducive to unhappiness, jealousy, and STBBIs? Léa Séguin teases apart common beliefs about nonmonogamy.

They say never to read comments on social media. Apparently, worrying about what people think about controversial topics is a waste of time. Worse still, frustration and headaches are guaranteed!

Maybe so, but I’m not one to bow to that kind of wisdom. I like to know the wide array of beliefs and opinions that exist about issues that matter to me deeply (e.g., the right to abortion, trans rights, the fight against fatphobia, etc.) to better understand points of view that oppose my own.

Having been polyamorous for about 12 years, one of the topics that particularly interests me is nonmonogamy. Since I spend hours and hours reading comments on Facebook and Instagram every week (and I’m not about to stop!), I thought I’d make the most of this “hobby” and write a scientific paper on what people think about nonmonogamy (Séguin, 2019). What are the main assumptions and prejudices that are going around? Where does the stigma come from?

Before unpacking these questions, here’s something to keep in mind: the term “nonmonogamy” is often accompanied by the qualifiers “consensual,” “ethical,” or “negotiated,” but we don’t use these adjectives when we talk about monogamy. This double standard insinuates that nonmonogamy is, in essence, not consensual, ethical, or negotiated, and that monogamy is these things by default. However, we know that not all relationships—regardless of their configuration—are healthy.

To move away from this double standard and normalize nonmonogamous relationships, I use the term “nonmonogamy”, without any qualifiers, when referring to them.

To better understand the different types of nonmonogamous relationships, check out our article on the subject.

1. “Nonmonogamous people will never be as happy as people in monogamous relationships.”

One of the beliefs I’ve seen most circulated online is that people in nonmonogamous relationships are unhappy. People can’t imagine that someone in their right mind would willingly engage in this type of relationship or that, if they do, they would most likely do so only reluctantly at a partner’s request (Séguin, 2019). Yet, research shows that monogamous relationships are not necessarily of better quality than nonmonogamous ones.

Not only have high levels of intimacy and sexual and relationship satisfaction been documented in nonmonogamous relationships (Conley et al., 2018; Mitchell et al., 2014; Séguin et al., 2017; Træen & Thuen, 2022), most studies in fact find no differences between monogamous and nonmonogamous relationships in terms of commitment, trust, intimacy, equity, health, and happiness (Fleckenstein & Cox, 2015; Hosking, 2013; LaSala, 2004; Rubel & Bogaert, 2015; Séguin et al., 2017).

In part, happiness in a relationship depends on the partners’ consent: when there is mutual consent to being in a nonmonogamous relationship, and everyone feels comfortable with their relationship agreement, things generally go better than when people engage in such relationships reluctantly or solely to make their partner happy (Hangen et al., 2020).

2. “Nonmonogamous people experience more jealousy than monogamous people.”

Since nonmonogamous people potentially expose themselves to more situations likely to provoke jealousy, one might believe that they experience this feeling more often than monogamous people. However, recent studies show the opposite: nonmonogamous people experience less jealousy than monogamous people (Balzarini et al., 2021; Mogilski et al., 2019).

Why is that? Because they are, on average, better equipped to manage jealousy or more motivated to learn to manage it rather than to see it as an immutable fact or an expression of love. Compared to their monogamous counterparts, nonmonogamous people are more likely to:

  • Have a secure attachment style (Moors et al., 2015)
  • Perceive jealousy as a normal, but surmountable, emotion (Mint, 2010);
  • See jealousy as an opportunity for introspection and personal growth (de Visser & McDonald, 2007), and
  • Prioritize positive problem-solving strategies that focus on compromise and negotiation, while being less inclined to avoid conflict (Brooks et al., 2022).

While jealousy is a very unpleasant emotion, we shouldn’t be afraid of it. Like any negative emotion, the green-eyed monster plays a crucial role in our lives by alerting or informing us that we have a need that is not being met.

A person who feels jealous at the idea of their partner seeing someone else could, for example, be experiencing the need for more emotional connection, validation, love, or even understanding.

By pinpointing the unmet need that underlies our emotions, it usually becomes easier to understand our reactions, communicate with our partner, and come up with a solution that doesn’t involve trying to control their other relationships.

Club Sexu offers a nonviolent communication workshop, which addresses identifying the needs hidden beneath emotions like jealousy!

That being said, many people in nonmonogamous relationships experience compersion—an emotion often defined as the opposite of jealousy.

Compersion is the positive emotion an individual can feel with regard to their partner(s)’ other relationships (Hypatia from Space, 2017). We can, for example, feel joy at the idea of our partner being happy in a new relationship, excitement at the idea that they are exploring new connections, or even sexual arousal at the idea of them having sex with someone else (Flicker et al., 2021).

3. “People in nonmonogamous relationships all have or will have an STBBI.”

The limited research comparing rates of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs) of people in monogamous relationships to those in nonmonogamous relationships suggests that the risk of STBBI transmission might actually be higher among monogamous folks (wait, what?).While nonmonogamous people have, on average, more sexual partners over the course of their lives than monogamous people, both groups report similar STBBI rates (Lehmiller, 2015).

In other words, individuals in nonmonogamous relationships contracted fewer STBBIs per sexual partner than people in monogamous relationships. Yep, you read that right!

This trend may be explained by the following facts:

  1. Monogamy, as it is practiced today, is not an effective prevention strategy against STBBIs (for example, we tend to have sex before being “officially” exclusive and to stop using condoms or dental dams when we want increase trust and intimacy or when we feel safe rather than after having had an open discussion about sexual health and getting tested; Conley et al., 2020); and
  2. people in monogamous relationships are less likely to use protection with other partners (during infidelity) or to get tested than people in nonmonogamous relationships (Conley et al., 2012).

Infidelity, the elephant in the room, is relatively common and introduces a risk of contracting an STBBI. According to one study, 21.2% to 31.8% of women and 36.6% to 52.8% of men in monogamous relationships reported engaging in sexual activities that involved a risk of STBBI transmission (oral sex, anal penetration, etc.) with someone other than their relationship partner (Luo et al., 2010).

It is true that, if you have no sex with anyone whatsoever, the risk of contracting an STBBI is nil. However, what exposes us to the risk of contracting an STBBI when we are sexually active is more a question of not using protection or not getting tested than of having multiple partners.

4. “Nonmonogamy is okay, as long as the people involved don’t have children.”

Many people think that nonmonogamy is harmful to children’s wellbeing because they would then be exposed to their parents’ sex lives, which would confuse and disturb them (Alarie & Bosom, 2022). Many also believe that such relationships inevitably lead to breakup—ya know, because of all the jealousy and lack of “real” love and commitment—which, in turn, would result in unstable homes and “broken” families (Séguin, 2019).

Yet, polyamorous parents report that their families benefit from polyamory in several ways (Alarie et al., 2021; Alarie & Bosom, 2022; Sheff, 2014):

  • Greater emotional closeness with their children due to the promotion of open and transparent communication
  • More shared resources (financial, emotional, etc.)
  • More leisure and alone time due to the possibility of distributing parental responsibilities among several adults
  • Greater attention to children due to the availability of multiple adults, and
  • For children, more positive role models who communicate, negotiate, and have varied skills and interests.

In fact, when things don’t go as well in polyamorous families, it’s often because they face several social and legal challenges linked to social stigma, marriage, and marital privileges, such as difficulties with health insurance plans, tax deductions, shared property, parental recognition, child custody, and inheritance.

In fact, the stigma surrounding nonmonogamy is so great that many of these families feel pressure to strive for perfection out of fear that any problem or misstep would be attributed to nonmonogamy and to avoid being reported to child protection services (Allarie & Bosom, 2022).

* * *

I may have painted a rosy picture of nonmonogamous relationships in this article, but remember that these findings absolutely do not mean that nonmonogamy is superior to monogamy. Both of these relational models are valid.

It also doesn’t mean that you should be in a nonmonogamous relationship or that you should at least try. Just like monogamy, nonmonogamy isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.

The important thing is to be true to yourself, pay attention to your needs and those of your partner(s), and keep in mind that any relationship, regardless of its configuration, evolves over time and requires work and care.

Also, given that needs, desires, and  intimate relationships are complex, fluid, and dynamic, it’s entirely possible—even normal—to change your mind about (non-)monogamy over the course of your life. Changing your mind about your relationship configuration doesn’t mean that you’re “confused”, doing (non-)monogamy wrong, or that the relationship practices or configurations you leave behind are bad or unnatural. Let’s allow ourselves to evolve freely in our relationships.

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