Hard Science Roundup: What We Know About Consensual Nonmonogamy

I write a weekly column for Playboy entitled Hard Science—a title that just works on so many levels. Lately, I’ve devoted several of my articles to exploring what we know about consensual nonmonogamy (CNM), not only because this is a topic people seem to be extremely curious about, but also because there are so many myths and misconceptions out there about CNM. In case you missed any of these articles, here they are:

· Do open relationships ever work out? A lot of folks (many scientists included) think that open relationships are bound to fail because human being are designed for monogamy. However, if you look closely at the research that’s out there, what you’ll see is that not only can open relationships work, but they appear to work just as well as monogamous relationships on average. Open relationships certainly aren’t for everyone, but for those who want them, they seem to do just fine.

· Do people in consensually nonmonogamous relationships have more STDs? Most people would probably assume that those who are into CNM would be at much higher risk for STDs than those who say they’re monogamous. However, research suggests that this may not be the case. People in CNM relationships appear to be cognizant of the risks associated with having multiple partners and they take a lot of precautions to protect themselves. At the same time, monogamy is often implemented imperfectly (cheating is pretty common, after all), and when people do cheat, more often than not, they fail to practice safe sex. Thus, CNM isn’t quite as risky and monogamy isn’t quite as safe as people think.

· Why do so many straight guys want to “share” their wives and girlfriends with other men? Many men find the prospect of watching their partner have sex with other men to be arousing, a sexual interest that has come to be known as cuckolding or (in psychological terms) troilism. Why are so many guys into it? Several theories have been proposed. Some suggest that there is an evolutionary basis (i.e., the sperm competition hypothesis), while others suggest that the roots are psychological in nature and are perhaps tied to feelings of power.

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