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How American Singles Really Feel About Consensual Non-Monogamy

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Nearly one third of singles in America have had a consensually non-monogamous relationship, but many singles are still committed to the concept of traditional sexual monogamy.

According to the 2024 Match Singles in America report, which released on Wednesday, while 31% of singles in America have explored consensual non-monogamy (also known as ethical non-monogamy), 49% of singles say that traditional sexual monogamy is still their "ideal sexual relationship." Of the one third of singles who had tried consensual non-monogamy, respondents reported participating in polyamory (where relationship partners agree that each may have a romantic relationship with other people), open relationships (a committed primary relationship that openly allows for romantic and/or sexual activity with others), swinging (expanding an exclusive romantic relationship to seek out other sexual partners together), and being monogamish (a committed relationship that allows for sexual variety with others, either together or individually).

Read more: The Surprising Political Evolution of American Polyamory

Though consensual non-monogamy has long existed, it's enjoying a moment of popularity in the mainstream, and showing up in pop culture with television shows, books, and media focusing on its facets. Anthropologist Helen Fisher, Match’s Chief Science Advisor, who helped co-lead the study, said that though this moment is an exciting development for consensual non-monogamy, it's hardly new.

"There's every reason to think that having sex outside of the pair bond has been quite common for millions of years," Fisher told TIME. "What's actually extraordinary is that we bother to pair up at all and indeed we do."

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Fisher says that monogamy is a carryover from early farming cultures, when couples were dependent on each other to farm, making pair bonding necessary, especially for women, who were forced to be dependent on men, who were the property owners. She notes that the current interest in consensual non-monogamy can be traced back to the mores of hunting gathering societies, when women could express their sexuality, because as gatherers, they were as viable as male partners as contributors to the economy. Fisher points to the contemporary rise of women in the job market as well as their increased education and ability to keep and inherit their own money as key advances that have aided in more sexual self-expression.

Read more: How the Fall of Roe v. Wade Has Changed Dating in the U.S.

"I do think that the rise of consensual non-monogamy is part of a much larger cultural sweep, back to life as it was a million years ago where women and men could express their sexuality without having their heads chopped off as was the case in farming cultures," she says.

According to Fisher, this shift has led to singles of today being more creative and willing to think outside of conventions when it comes to their needs, desires and relationships—and she says that will have a positive outcome.

"What's interesting about the consensual non-monogamy is not the non-monogamy," she says. "What is is the fact is that it's consensual and that it is being normalized. I can only think that that is part of a huge societal blossoming of self-expression."

Many of the singles who engaged in consensual non-monogamy did feel that the experience positively impacted their dating life; 38% said their non-monogamous experiences have made them better understand what they do and don’t want and need in a relationship, while 29% say they became more emotionally mature. It helped improve their sex lives too: 30% of single people reported becoming more open sexually and 27% said they were able to have more frequent sex.

Read more: It’s Now 40% More Expensive to Be Single and Dating Than It Was a Decade Ago

Match's survey also found that finances continue to be the top stressor for singles for the second year in a row, with singles reporting that personal day-to-day finances was their top stressor, followed concerns over the economy and inflation. Ahead of the 2024 election, Match also found that singles have voting on their mind this year, particularly when it comes to reproductive rights. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has affected the dating and sex lives of nearly 9 in 10 singles (87% of daters under age 50) since the 2022 ruling, a significant jump from 78% last year.

When it comes to the ballot box, 22% of singles say abortion legislation will determine their vote, while 70% say a candidate's view on abortion will have some impact on how they will vote, with a majority of singles reporting that they identify as pro-choice. The rollback of Roe v. Wade has also had a lasting impact on singles' dating and sex lives; 12% of people are more hesitant to date now, while 10% are more nervous or anxious during sex and 11% report having sex less often.

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com