New study links traits of emerging adulthood to willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamous relationships

New study links traits of emerging adulthood to willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamous relationships

New study links traits of emerging adulthood to willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamous relationships

New research provides evidence that several developmental characteristics of emerging adulthood are related to the willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamous relationships. The findings are published in the scientific journal Archives of Sexual Behavior

In consensual non-monogamous relationships (including but not limited to polyamorous relationships and swinging), partners agree to engage in sexual or romantic relationships with other people. Some studies have shown a growing interest in these types of relationships, but little is known about how the developmental period of emerging adulthood affects the willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamy.

“I am interested in this topic for several reasons. First, I am intrigued by the many sexual and relationship experiences and opportunities available to youth and young adults today,” said study co-author Spencer B. Olmstead, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“Consensual non-monogamy is a relationship orientation that has not been studied specifically among young adults to date. While there is a wealth of research regarding both committed and casual relationships among young adults, emerging adulthood appears to be an important life-cycle stage in which the thoughts, attitudes, and identify behaviors that may increase one’s willingness and actual commitment to a consensually non-monogamous relationship.”

For the new study, the researchers surveyed 792 participants (aged 18-25) living in the United States about their perceptions of the developmental characteristics of emerging adulthood. The participants were asked to indicate to what extent they agreed that this period of their lives was a “time of opportunity” (experiment), a “time of finding out who you are” (identity exploration), a “time of confusion” (instability), a “time of personal freedom” (self-focus) and a “time when we feel mature in some ways, but not in others” (feeling in-between). They also reported their willingness to engage in various forms of consensual non-monogamy, such as “[taking] on a third partner to bring you into your relationship on an equal footing.”

Olmstead and his colleagues found that those who agreed more that emerging adulthood was a period of identity exploration were generally less willing to engage in consensual non-monogamy, while those who agreed more that emerging adulthood was a time of experimentation and “of feeling in between” tended to be more willing. Seeing emerging adulthood as a time of instability or a period of self-focus was separate from willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamy.

“One of the key messages from this article is that young adults perceive this period in their lives from a number of points of view,” Olmstead told PsyPost. “Some of these self-perceptions increase a person’s willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamy, while others may decrease that willingness. These different characteristics and perceptions emphasize the heterogeneity of emerging adults, and when it comes to relationship orientations, these self-perceptions matter.”

The researchers also found that men, non-heterosexuals, those who were more interested in sexual exploration, those who accepted more casual sex, and those who didn’t go to college were more willing to engage in consensual non-monogamy. Importantly, however, the findings were maintained even after adjusting for these variables.

But the study, like all research, has some caveats.

“It’s important to keep in mind that this sample of participants is not a representative sample of all emerging adults, and that the main focus was on willingness to participate, rather than actual involvement in consensual non-monogamy,” he said. Olmstead. “Also, participants reported on overall perceptions of each of the five developmental characteristics measured, so future studies will want to examine perceptions specific to relationships and sex more closely, as these measures may explain more of the variance in the outcome variable.”

“This study looked mainly at those in the period of emerging adulthood and those who belonged to the millennial generation,” Olmstead added. “Those considered GenZ may have very different attitudes, perceptions and openness to a variety of relationship orientations and sexual experiences, including consensual non-monogamy.”

“Thus, it will be important in future studies to collect a representative sample, spanning a variety of generations to make comparisons, and to collect data from participants across multiple time points to better understand readiness to engage in consensual non-monogamy among emerging adults.”

The study, “Are the developmental characteristics of emerging adulthood associated with willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamous relationships?” was authored by Spencer B. Olmstead and Kristin M. Anders.