More Canadians Are Getting Into the Swing of Things

Despite social stigma, plenty of Canadians are in "open" relationships and, according to a new study, even more would like to be.


Is monogamy on the decline? According to new research, more of us than you might think are in, or interested in, a nonmonogamous relationship.

A consensually nonmonogamous, or ‘open’, relationship means partners are free to have sexual, emotional or romantic interactions with others outside the primary partnership. The terms of each will vary, from polyamory (multiple romantic relationships) to swinging (multiple sexual relationships). But all are built on a mutual commitment to openness and transparency.

Open relationships are a poorly studied area. But thanks to researchers at the University of British Columbia and Ryerson University we now know a little more about the prevalence of, and interest in, open relationships in Canada.

The researchers surveyed a representative sample of 2,003 Canadian adults aged 18 to 94, 55% of which were married or living with a romantic partner at the time. Of those in relationships, 4% reported their relationship as ‘open’, but 12% reported it as their ideal relationship type.

“Our findings suggest that more people would like to be in an open relationship than already are, possibly because of the stigma associated with these types of relationships and the difficulty of broaching this subject with partners,” said Nichole Fairbrother, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of psychiatry at UBC.

“Even with the stigma, however, it still appears that a sizeable number of Canadian adults are either in or would like to be in an open relationship.”

Among those surveyed it was male and younger respondents that were most likely to report, and prefer, open relationships. For men, the researchers suggest this could be partially due to more open relationships among same-sex male couples.

Interestingly, relationship satisfaction did not differ significantly between monogamous and open relationships. However, a mismatch between preferred and actual relationship types did appear to negatively impact relationship satisfaction.

Fairbrother believes it’s an issue mental health and couples therapy providers need to be better equipped to deal with. Particularly as, with interest higher in younger Canadians, the prevalence of open relationships could be on the rise.

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Amy Noise is a science communicator who is fascinated by how and why the world works. Always learning, she is passionate about science and sharing it with the world to improve and protect our health, society and environment. Amy earned her BSc (biology and science communication) at the University of Manchester, and MSc (nutrition science and policy) at King’s College London, UK. She tweets sporadically @any_noise