How many Americans prefer non-monogamy in relationships?

Linley SandersData Journalist
February 21, 2023, 4:08 PM GMT+0

A majority of Americans (55%) prefer complete monogamy in their relationships — but many adults would rather have some form of non-monogamy.

A February 2023 YouGov poll finds that one-third of Americans (34%) describe their ideal relationship as something other than complete monogamy. To measure this, YouGov asked people to rate their ideal relationship on a scale of 0 to 6, where 0 represented "complete monogamy" and 6 meant "complete non-monogamy." Many adults who do not choose total monogamy desire something in between complete monogamy and complete non-monogamy, with 26% of all Americans choosing an option in the middle — a number between 1 and 5.

Men and women under 45 are more likely than their older counterparts to be interested in something other than complete monogamy, though 18- to 44-year-old women still are slightly more likely to prefer complete monogamy (46%) to either complete non-monogamy (13%) or something between the two most polarized options (28%). About one-third of 18- to 44-year-old men (35%) prefer complete monogamy over complete non-monogamy (9%), while 46% want something in-between.

A 2020 YouGov poll found similar numbers. Americans signaled more interest in complete monogamy when YouGov asked this question in 2016. At that time, 61% of Americans said their ideal relationship was completely monogamous. As is the case now, 34% preferred something else.

Many Americans have already engaged in some type of alternative to monogamy — whether that took place with the consent of their primary partner, or not. One in eight Americans (12%) say they have engaged in sexual activity with someone other than their primary partner — with their primary partner's permission. More commonly, 20% of adults say that they have engaged in sexual activity with someone else without the consent of their main partner. In both instances, men are more likely than women to have engaged in sexual activities outside of their relationship.

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say that if their partner wanted to engage in sexual activities with someone else, they would not be OK with it. One in five Americans say that their comfort level depends on the situation, and 5% would be OK with it.

How Americans view relationship practices

There are many different types of relationship practices, and Americans are more disapproving than approving of consenting adults engaging in some non-monogamous relationship styles. Americans are more likely to strongly or somewhat approve (83%) of monogamy than to strongly or somewhat disapprove (11%) of it, giving it a net score of +72. For the purposes of this question, YouGov provided brief definitions of each relationship practice; monogamy was defined as "A relationship where two partners have a commitment to be sexually and emotionally exclusive with each other."

Slightly more Americans approve than disapprove of a "friends with benefits" dynamic (+10), where two people who are friends have sex without the expectation of a romantic commitment. Men under 45 are more approving (+38) than women under 45 (+12), men 45 and over (+4), and women 45 and older (-6).

Asked about six other relationship styles that could fall under the category of non-monogamy, more Americans disapprove than approve of open relationships (-26), throuples (-29), polyamory (-31), swinging (-35), and polygamy (-49). In each case, 18- to 44-year-olds are more approving than adults over 45.

Polygamy — the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time — receives the lowest levels of net approval of the seven dynamics asked about. Two-thirds of Americans (68%) oppose the legalization of polygamy; 18- to 29-year-olds (52%) are less likely to oppose it.

Though most Americans do not want polygamy legalized, about half either think it will be legalized in the next 50 years (18%) or are uncertain (30%). Half (52%) say it will not become legal in the next 50 years.

— Carl Bialik and Taylor Orth contributed to this poll

See the results from this YouGov poll conducted on February 1 - 6, 2023 and explore the results from 2020 and 2016.

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on February 1 - 6, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.

Image: Adobe Stock (igor_kell)