Open marriages aren’t for everyone. But if you’re intrigued at the idea of abandoning the notion that only one person can fulfill you romantically, sexually, and emotionally, you’re certainly not alone. According to a recent poll from the Kinsey Institute, about one in five Americans have engaged in consensual non-monogamy (CNM)—that is, relationships in which partners agree to be romantically and/or sexually involved with people outside of what might be considered their primary relationship.
In fact, as interest in CNM has increased in recent years, researchers have also worked to better understand these types of relationships. For example, what are some of the benefits of practicing non-monogamy? According to one recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, one has to do with sexual satisfaction.
The study, led by Amy Muise, an assistant professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, is the first of its kind to investigate the link between sexual need fulfillment and relationship satisfaction among people in CNM relationships. It’s an important topic; after all, as Muise and her coauthors point out—and perpetually single people everywhere can confirm—getting everything you need from a romantic partner can be “a tall order.”
For their analysis, researchers conducted two different surveys of a total of 1,054 participants who reported being CNM. They asked the subjects to rate how satisfied they were in their relationships, how sexually fulfilled they felt, and how far they thought their partners would go to rock their world, among other things.
According to the study’s findings, participants who said they felt more sexually fulfilled in their primary relationship (which was determined by who they spent the most time with, not necessarily who they considered to be their main squeeze) and thought their primary partner was particularly intent on meeting their needs also reported feeling more satisfied in their secondary relationship. In other words, there was a “spillover effect” from a person’s primary relationship into their secondary relationship: Their cups runneth over.
“One explanation for these additive or ‘spillover’ effects,” the authors write, “is that having multiple partners is a way for people to achieve greater sexual need fulfillment, and this, in turn, enhances each relationship.” They also suggest that it’s possible having a primary partner who is gungho about meeting one’s sexual needs, even if they cannot fulfill all of those desires themselves, allows people to seek out other relationships for specific purposes. For example, if a woman’s primary partner is unwilling or unable to take on a specific sex act, she may seek to engage in that elsewhere.
More broadly, the findings suggest monogamous couples could learn a lot from CNM couples. Not only does it take a “strong foundation” to maintain a primary partnership when the relationship is open to outside partners, “open communication and managing jealousy and attraction are insights that CNM relationships could afford monogamous relationships,” the study states.
Kate Kincaid, an Arizona-based psychologist who works with polyamorous couples, agrees. In a recent interview with TIME, she said: “The biggest thing that I appreciate about poly people is that they focus on knowing what their needs are and get their needs met in creative ways—relying more on friends or multiple partners instead of putting it all on one person.”
She added: “Once [monogamists] get into a relationship, they tend to value their romantic partner above everyone else.”