What’s the Difference Between Polyamory and Monogamous Relationships in the U.S.?

Polyamorist couple, Cinna and Beau Lewis, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa were highlighted in a littlevillagemag.com article written by Emma McClatchey earlier this month (read article here). In the article, Cinna and Beau share their poly relationship experiences covering everything from dating logistics to transparent communication to sexual identity. Cinna describes polyamory as “really beautiful” and that their strong monogamous relationship helped them build their poly relationships from a solid foundation. Cinna and Beau represent an understudied population who are rewriting the standard narrative about how relationships are to be structured. They are not alone. A California-based triad recently symbolically married (see article here) and others are exploring a lack of evidence in negative effects on parenting-while-poly (see article here). Now all this positivity should not infer ease or perfection in poly relationships. Just like any other relationship, there is work involved. Everyone involved in the relationship must effectively communicate, negotiate, and, of course, share intimacy in ways that works best for them. But who, exactly, are these polyamorists and are they different than those who practice monogamous relationships?

A recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research compared the demographics of Americans who are in polyamorous relationships with those in monogamous relationships. The study, led by Rhonda Balzarini at the University of Western Ontario, compared data of over 2,400 polyamorous individuals with over 500 monogamous individuals. The study findings concluded that polyamorous individuals were significantly more likely to identify as bisexual, pansexual or an other, non-listed orientation than those who were monogamous. They did not differ, however, in those who identified as gay or lesbian. Monogamous individuals were more likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher education. Religious affiliation for monogamous individuals was primarily Christian, which was significantly different than polyamorous individual who reported other religious affiliations equally with Christianity. Polyamorists tended to affiliate politically with the Democratic party than the Republican party, but polyamory was represented in both parties. This study may not tell us much about political affiliation beyond a simple statement that polyamorists may align with either political party. Polyamorists reported a lower annual income compared to monogamous individuals and polyamorists tended to be in civil union relationships compared to their married monogamous counterparts.

These findings show that there are some differences between individuals who are polyamorous compared those who are monogamous in the areas of sexual identity, religious affiliation, and income differences. These differences may not really be too surprising considering the predominate religion of Christianity of those surveyed has not historically supported sexual identities beyond heterosexuality. While this study is a demographic picture of the individual differences between polyamorous and monogamous individuals, there is so much more to learn and understand. As more research is published we will learn more, from a scientific perspective, how these relationships differ (if at all), how parenting differs (if it does), and maybe even more about how this particular relationship configuration may create a healthier state of well-being for those in a sexually autonomous relationship. Indeed the poly relationship tends to look more like that of our ancestors, as we shared in a previous blog post, Inconvenient Truth About Monogamy.

References:

Balzarini, RN., Dharma, C., Kohut, T., Holmes, B.M., Campbell, L., Lehmiller, J.J., & Harman, J.J. (2019). Demographic comparison of American individuals in polyamorous and monogamous relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 56(6), 681-694.

McClatchey, E., (Feb. 5, 2020). Polyamory works wonders for one Cedar Rapids couple. Little Village Magazine. Accessed at https://littlevillagemag.com/polyamory-works-wonders-for-one-cedar-rapids-couple/

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