Why Open Relationships Can Work, According To Science

Would you let your boyfriend or girlfriend 'cheat,' if you could do the same?

We spend so much time looking for The One -- browsing online profiles, going on awkward dates, trying to determine ideal compatibility -- but could a plural mindset be a better fit for some of us?

It's called polyamory, it's a millennial thing, and it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Even those who are otherwise progressive may denounce it as just ... wrong. An open relationship? Multiple relationships? Group relationships? Polyamory can encompass a lot of different types of relationships, all of which can ruffle some feathers among more traditional people.

If monogamy works for you and your significant other, that's fantastic. No pressure to change your situation! But for other people, it can actually make a lot of sense. Let's explore why, from biology to sociology to psychology...

We're animals too


Monogamy is relatively rare in the animal kingdom; it's the exception, not the rule, because evolution tends to reward being fruitful more than being faithful. Hell, snakes have massive writhing orgies called "mating balls" where everyone be gettin' pregnant, and dolphins -- adorable, intelligent dolphins -- are crazy promiscuous.

But let's forget about procreation. A bunch of bees having simultaneous sex with their queen for breeding purposes has very little to do with human relationships, right? Guess again, because...

It's part of our evolution, according to a major scientific theory


In the book "Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships," one of the preeminent volumes on the biological basis of human sexuality, Dr. Christopher Ryan and Dr. Cacilda Jethá propose a fairly shocking theory: Even though humans and chimps evolved from a common ancestor, we took our sex cues from a different cousin.

Specifically the Bonobo, a hyper-intelligent great ape that lives in a complex society, which happens to be sexy as heck. Bonobos are bo-boning constantly, mostly as a way of forming and strengthening social bonds. Their techniques, which mirror ours, include missionary style, oral sex, and even French kissing.

Bonobo society is pretty great. Not only is there free love, but also widespread peace, which is in direct contrast to other primates that engage in straight-up warfare. Because bonobos aren't all caught up in turf wars, there's a lot more time for lounging around and laughing and sexing and tickling one another. Kind of like your first year of college, except forever.

So if Ryan and Jethá are right, then polyamory is kinda the real "traditional" lifestyle.

So, what happened?


Humans were just like bonobos -- multiple partners for everyone, and all contributing to the wellbeing of the group -- right up until the time we started owning stuff, according to Ryan and Jethá. Agriculture meant individual farms, and people started valuing property over promiscuity.

If you're part of a traveling band of nomads, it's not like you've got a bunch of possessions to pass on to your (communally raised) children... but if you're a farmer, why should everybody else get your sweet plot of land and all your cool stuff when you die?

This marked the beginning of relationships as yet another form of property. And even though that's changed, harmful double standards linger.


Men dominated society, just like how -- going back to our genetic cousins -- chimps operate in a "harem" style society, wherein males limit and dictate female sexuality. This is often known as a patriarchy, not equal-opportunity polyamory.

See, a dominant male chimp defeats and intimidates the weaker chimps, discouraging female promiscuity and advancing his genetic line as a result. (If you've ever seen brodudes hopped up on testosterone fighting outside a club -- the kind who brag about random sex, but hypocritically consider women "slutty" for doing the same -- then you've seen anthropology in action.)

In bonobo society, it's the opposite: Females get all the love, aren't socially shamed for freely expressing their sexuality as they see fit, and males don't compete over mating rights as if they're entitled. Which society would you rather live in?

Tons of happy, functional, non-jealous adults make polyamory work!


Seriously, more people are in open relationships than you'd think; they just aren't open about their open relationships. Studies have found that roughly 5% of Americans are in "consensual nonmonogomous" relationships. That means one or both partners are allowed -- or encouraged -- to pursue intimacy with other people.

Is that so shocking when you consider that as many as 63% of men and 40% of women cheat on their "monogamous" partners? Wouldn’t you rather have a commitment to honest and open communication about how to make your relationship work, rather than a lot of deceit?

"A lot of people describe having sex with only one person as 'being faithful,'" writes family therapist and groundbreaking polyamory expert Dossie Easton. "It seems to me that faithfulness has very little to do with who you have sex with. Faithfulness is about honoring your commitments and respecting your friends and lovers, about caring for their well-being as well as your own."

Monogamy and polyamory are both legitimate -- it just depends on what's best for you...

According to recent research, it all comes down to who you are. There are two general groups of humans: those who lean toward monogamy, and those who don't. Both men and women are split roughly in half for each group. People in monogamous relationships seem to have higher levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin, so what works for some might not work for others. As Live Science explains, "Human beings have much more varied mating strategies than other animals."

Changing attitudes about sexuality have opened up eyes across the world, and people are becoming more and more accepting of different expressions of love. It's not that polyamory is better than monogamy or vice-versa; quite literally, it's different strokes for different folks.

So before you judge someone in an open relationship for lack of commitment, it may just be time to redefine what counts as a committed relationship in the first place.

For more on the topic of commitment, watch "Guy Code" TONIGHT at 11/10c on MTV2

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