California Observer

Open Relationship is rising nowadays

Having more than one sexual partner in a serious relationship has been frowned upon for a long time. However, even though it’s not popular, more and more people want to be in an open relationship.

Dedeker Winston has been in open relationships for more than ten years, but she has never seen so much interest in them.

In many places, including the US, where Winston lives, talking about this topic is against the law. So when she started the Multiamory podcast in 2014, she and the other people who worked on it had to decide if they would use their real names on the show. “At that time, there were only one or two podcasts that talked about this topic,” the dating coach says. “And the people who made and hosted the podcasts did so under fake names.”

But now things are different. Winston saw an “explosion of interest” in non-monogamous relationships around 2016. This was about a year after she started working as a dating coach specializing in these relationships. “That’s when I think I saw the biggest turning point,” she says. “All of a sudden, so many people online were willing to talk about not being monogamous and show that they were interested in these kinds of things.”

Sarah Levinson, a New York City therapist, specializing in sexuality and relationship dynamics and works at Creative Relating Psychology Psychotherapy, has also seen an increase in interest in open relationships over the past ten years. “It wasn’t as common 10 years ago, but now it’s everywhere,” she says.

Some of these stories and some data show that people are becoming more interested in relationships that are not monogamous by choice, such as open relationships. Experts say that many social and cultural factors, including the pandemic, have made people more open to non-traditional relationship styles. But experts need to find out how popular open relationships are, at least for now, even though interest in them is growing.

Open relationship comes in numerous forms

Levinson says that there are many ways not to be married. “It could be anything from living with multiple partners and sharing finances to supporting your partner once a year by giving them a free pass to a work conference out of state so they can hook up.”

Non-monogamy includes open relationships, but many people tend to tell the difference between them and other types of non-monogamy, like polyamory. Polyamory usually means having more than one close relationship, while open relationships usually involve people having mostly sexual relationships with other people outside their main, two-person relationship. In other words, open relationships focus less on emotional connections with people outside of a primary relationship and more on sexual ones.

For some, this means going on casual dates and having relationships like “friends with benefits” with people who are not their main partners. For some, an open relationship is just a “pass” to have a one-night stand or a short sexual fling now and then.

For still others, the arrangement might be more like “swinging,” where they have sex with other couples as a couple but don’t go on separate dates. Winston also talks about “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationships, in which both people in a couple allow the other to have sexual relations with other people, but they don’t want to talk about it.

Other terms, like “monogamish,” made popular by US-based relationship and sex columnist Dan Savage a few years ago, can describe some of these open-relationship situations. On his podcast, Savage has talked about his monogamous relationship, in which he and his partner are committed to each other but also have casual sex with other men.

People from all walks of life have open relationships. Levinson says that over the past few years, she has seen “quite a bit of diversity” in the people who come to her open relationship sessions, from their “economic resources” to their “ethnicity.” (However, she admits that as a counselor in New York City, she sees a different sample than someone in a more conservative part of the United States.)

Winston has found that most of her clients, podcast listeners, and website visitors interested in or in open relationships are between the ages of 25 and 45. And many identify as queer, bisexual and/or pansexual. But in her practice, she has helped clients as young as 19 and as old as 70 who were interested in or practicing open relationships. “Everyone from every walk of life comes to my door,” she says.

“Getting interested”

Trends in dating apps show that people are becoming more interested in open relationships. For one, more and more people are interested in non-monogamy and open relationships, so sites that focus on those topics have popped up. But even more, open relationships have become more popular on traditional dating apps like OkCupid.

“Most OkCupid daters are looking for monogamous relationships, but the number of people looking for non-monogamous relationships went up by 7% in 2021,” an OkCupid representative told BBC Worklife. In addition, when asked in the app, “Would you consider having an open relationship?” more than a million OkCupid users in the UK said yes in 2022, compared to 29% in 2021 and 26% in 2020.

Also, data from the dating app Hinge for the year 2022 showed that one in five users “would think about” trying out an open relationship, and one in ten has already done so. Logan Ury, the director of relationship science at Hinge, says there may be a pandemic effect because she thinks it was “the perfect time to stop and think more about what we want.”

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Professionals and counselors like Levinson and Winston have also noticed an increase. Winston says that most of the recent interest she’s seen in open relationships comes from millennials who are “questioning the way they’ve been raised,” which is usually to think that long-term, monogamous marriage is the goal of close relationships.

And there are more resources than ever for interested people. Winston says that along with the “explosion of interest” in open relationships, there is also an “explosion of content creators and people writing about it in media… in apps, at community meetups.” This means that information about non-monogamy is easy to find and doesn’t have to be found in “old, dusty LiveJournals in the corners of the internet,” like Winston says she had to do more than a decade ago.

More fiction than truth?

Even though more people are choosing non-monogamous relationships and open relationships are getting more attention, most people still think they are bad. “Research and public opinion polls show that attitudes toward consensual non-monogamy are mostly negative overall, but they seem to be getting better,” says Dr. Justin Lehmiller, Kinsey Institute research fellow and host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast.

Even if these negative attitudes don’t stop people from thinking about open relationships, they can stop them from actually starting one. In his research on sexual fantasies, Lehmiller has found, for example, that “most people have fantasized about not being monogamous in some way, like by swinging, opening up their relationship, or being polyamorous.”

He adds that “relatively few people do it in real life.” Even though there is no information about how many people are in these situations after the pandemic, a Canadian study from 2019 and a US study from 2018 put the number at about 4%.

Opinions expressed by California Observer contributors are their own.

Opinions expressed by California Observer contributors are their own.