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Open marriage is a form of non-monogamy in which the partners of a dyadic marriage agree that each may engage in extramarital sexual relationships, without this being regarded by them as infidelity, and consider or establish an open relationship despite the implied monogamy of marriage.

There are variant forms of open marriage (such as swinging and polyamory), each with the partners having varying levels of input on their spouse's activities.


Terminology and conceptEdit


The term open marriage originated in sociology and anthropology. Through the 1960s, researchers used "closed marriage" to indicate the practices of communities and cultures where individuals were intended to marry based upon social conventions and proscriptions, and "open marriage" where individuals had the ability to make their own choice of spouse.[1][2]

Nena O'Neill and George O'Neill changed the meaning of the term with the 1972 publication of their book Open Marriage. The O'Neills describe "open marriage" as a relationship in which each partner has room for personal growth and can individually develop outside friendships, rather than focus obsessively on their couplehood and their family unit (being "closed"). Most of the book describes approaches to revitalizing marriage in areas of trust, role flexibility, communication, identity, and equality. Chapter 16, entitled "Love Without Jealousy", devoted 20 pages to the proposition that an "open marriage" might possibly include some forms of sexuality with other partners. Fueled by frequent appearances of the O'Neills on television and in magazine articles, the redefinition entered popular consciousness, and "open marriage" became a synonym for sexually non-monogamous marriage.

In her 1977 book, The Marriage Premise, Nena O'Neill advocated sexual fidelity in a chapter of that name. As she later said, "The whole area of extramarital sex is touchy. I don't think we ever saw it as a concept for the majority, and certainly it has not proved to be."[3]

Today, with many committed couples not seeking formal marriage, the term is frequently generalized to "open relationship".[citation needed]

Definitional issuesEdit

There are definitional issues that complicate attempts to determine the actual incidence of open marriage.

And meaning of "open marriage" can vary from study to study depending on how the particular researchers have set their selection criteria.

Individuals might claim to have open marriages when their spouses would not agree. Studies and articles that interview individuals without taking their married status into account may not receive accurate information about the actual "open" status of the marriage. Blumstein and Schwartz asked more than 6,000 couples whether or not they had an understanding allowing sex outside their relationship. Interviewed individually, the partners in some couples gave very different responses to this question; the respective replies from one marriaed couple were

Sure we have an understanding. It's 'You do what you want. Never go back to the same one.' See, that's where it's going to screw your mind up, to go back the second time to the same person. (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983, page 286)[4]

We've never spoken about cheating, but neither of us believe in it. I don't think I'd ever forgive him. I don't think I'd be able to. I don't know. I haven't met up with that situation. (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983, page 287) [4]

Couples may have an open marriage in principle, but not engage in extramarital sex. Studies that define open marriage by agreement alone will tend to report a higher incidence than studies that define open marriage by agreement and behavior. Spaniel and Cole found that 7 percent of couples would consider participating in an open marriage, but only 1.7 percent of couples reported having open marriages that actually included extramarital sex.[5] Blumstein and Schwartz found that 15 percent of married couples share an agreement that allows extramarital sex, but only about 24 percent of men and 22 percent of women (or 6 percent and 5 percent of the total, respectively) who had such an agreement actually engaged in extramarital sex during the prior year. [4]

Researchers have regularly applied "open marriage" in overly narrow terms. For example, Hunt defined open marriage specifically as swinging couples who meet with other swinging couples to swap mates.[6]

Open marriage is usually defined in terms of legally married, opposite-sex partners. Data collected from these kinds of open marriages may not generalize to other kinds of open relationships. For example, cohabiting couples tend to show higher levels of involvement in extra-relational intimacy compared to married couples.[4][7][8] Gay male couples show very high levels of open relationships compared to straight couples.[4]

Relationship maintenanceEdit

The impact of open marriage on relationships varies across couples. Some couples report high levels of marital satisfaction and have long-lasting open marriages.[citation needed] Other couples drop out of the open marriage lifestyle and return to sexual monogamy. These couples may continue to believe open marriage is a valid way of life, just not for them.

Jealousy issuesEdit

A 1981 study concluded that around 80 percent of people in open marriages experienced jealousy over their extramarital relationships.[9][10] Couples in open marriages experienced as much or more jealousy than people in sexually monogamous marriages.[11][12][13]

Martin Weinberg, Colin J. Williams, and Douglas Pryor found that 77 percent of bisexuals in sexually open relationships had partners who experienced jealousy at some point.[14] The largest group, at 46.2 percent, said their partners experienced only a little jealousy. The remaining 30.8 percent said their partners experienced moderate to extreme jealousy. (These findings may not generalize to heterosexual married couples, as most of subjects were not married.) In addition, bisexuals are often more jealous of outside partners of their own sex. "Primary partners were reportedly more jealous of an 'outside' partner of their own sex -- for example, a man whose primary partner was a woman would say she was more jealous of his relationships with other women. The logic that underlies this was that a person of the same sex as themselves could meet similar needs and thus replace them. A person of the opposite sex would not compete in this way, satisfying a different set of needs for their partner." (Weinberg, Williams, & Pryor, 1995, page 108)[14]

People who experience normal jealousy have at least nine strategies for coping with jealousy. The problem-solving strategies include: improving the primary relationship, interfering with the rival relationship, demanding commitment, and self-assessment. The emotion-focused strategies include: derogation of partner or rival, developing alternatives, denial/avoidance, support/catharsis, and appraisal challenge. These strategies are related to emotion regulation, conflict management, and cognitive change.

Ground rulesEdit

Couples involved in open marriages or relationships typically adopt a set of ground rules to guide their activities.

Ground rules in relationships allow partners to coordinate their behaviors, so they achieve shared goals with fewer conflicts. Some ground rules are universal in the sense that they apply to virtually all relationships in a particular culture. Other ground rules apply to particular kinds of relationships, such as friendships or marriages. Still other ground rules are designed to manage romantic rivalry and jealousy. The ground rules adopted by sexually monogamous couples tend to prevent behaviors that are viewed by the participants as acts of infidelity.

The ground rules adopted by sexually open couples tend to prohibit behaviors that provoke jealousy or sexual health concerns. Partners may change the ground rules of their relationships over time. One example of a changing ground rule includes where a married couple decides to separate. Without divorcing, they are still legally married. However, they may choose to continue cohabitation.

Ground rules in open relationships may include, for example: that partners disclose who they have sex with; that they limit their involvement with others (to dating or physical intimacy but not relationships); or that they not become involved with certain people (such as the other partner's friends or coworkers).


Couples in open marriages may prefer different kinds of extramarital relationships. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing love and emotional involvement have a polyamorous style of open marriage. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing sexual gratification and recreational friendships have a swinging style of open marriage. These distinctions may depend on psychological factors such as sociosexuality and may contribute to the formation of separate Polyamory and Swinging communities. Despite their distinctions, however, all open marriages share common issues: the lack of social acceptance, the need to maintain the health of their relationship and avoid neglect, and the need to manage jealous rivalry.

Many open couples maintain rules forbidding emotional attachment, extramarital children, extramarital sex in the marital bed, extramarital sex with those known to both partners, or extramarital sex without the use of barrier contraception.[citation needed]

Some open marriages are one-sided. Some situations giving rise to this are where the libidos of partners differ greatly, or illness renders one partner incapable of, or no longer desiring, sex. The couple may remain together while one partner seeks out sexual gratification as they sees fit. The difference between these situations and a cheating situation is that both partners in the marriage are aware of, and agree to the arrangement.[citation needed] -- Styles of open marriage are distinctions between open marriages based on the motives for participating in open marriage and on the nature of extramarital relationships. Couples in open marriages may prefer different kinds of extramarital relationships. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing love and emotional involvement have a polyamorous style of open marriage. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing sexual gratification and recreational friendships have a swinging style of open marriage. These distinctions may depend on psychological factors such as sociosexuality and may contribute to the formation of separate polyamory and swinging communities. Despite their distinctions, however, all open marriages share common issues: the lack of social acceptance, the need to maintain the relationship as a couple, and the need to manage jealous rivalry.

Polyamory vs swingingEdit

Extramarital relationships vary in terms of the degree of sexual involvement desired and the degree of emotional involvement desired.[15] Variation in the degree of sexual and emotional involvement desired typically reflects variation in the motives for participating in extramarital relationships. These variations provide a basis for distinguishing polyamory and swinging. Polyamory is motivated by a desire to expand love by developing emotionally involved relationships with extramarital partners. Swinging is motivated by a desire for physical gratification by engaging in sexual activities with extramarital partners.

The distinction between polyamory and swinging has recently started to appear in academic publications:

  • "Gould also devoted a chapter to polyamory, a relatively new concept in the social scientific literature. Whereas swingers concentrate on the sexual aspects of their encounters, polyamorists are prone to focus on the emotional ties in their multiple sexual relationships. Polyamory, Gould writes, originated in Oneida with John Humphrey Noyes and his belief in Perfectionism. Noyes believed fervently that romantic love was selfish love. He advocated a system of complex marriage, a system where everyone in their community was married to everyone else. There is debate within the polyamory community as to whether they should be mentioned in the same context as swingers. Some 'polys' are swingers, others are not. Here Gould draws the distinction between utopian and recreational swingers. The former are seen as more revolutionary in that they want to change the norms relating to marriage; the latter have no such intent. Polys are compared to the utopian swingers." (Jenks, 2001, page 172)[16]
  • "These ambiguities can be avoided to some extent (albeit at the price of venturing into less normative territory), by comparing the relationships of polyamorous couples to the relationships of couples into the swinging lifestyle. Both types of relationships involve sexual interactions with people outside of the dyad, but they differ in the emotional component of the interactions. Specifically, the extra-dyadic relationships of polyamorous couples often include both sexual and emotional components (Constantine & Constantine, 1971; Knapp, 1976; Rust, 1996), whereas the extra-dyadic relationships of swinging couples typically include only a sexual component (Denfield & Gordon, 1970; Fang, 1976; but see Symonds’, 1971, discussion of utopian swingers and Varni’s, 1974, discussion of interpersonal and communal swingers)." (Sagarin, 2005, page 74)[17]
  • "Note that the difference between polyamory and swinging is that in polyamory there is a focus on love and the emotional relationship with other lovers, whereas swinging is often recreational sex, with an explicit intention to avoid an emotional connection." (Cook, 2005, page 10)[18]
  • "Rubin (2001) reviewed this literature and noted—within a discussion of swinging—that a new term demonstrated the presence of lifestyles involving 'group sex' (p. 721): polyamory. According to Rubin, polyamory focuses more on emotional aspects of relationship and family as compared with the recreational sex characterized by swinging." (Keener, 2004, page 3)[19]

The same distinction has also appeared in newspapers and magazine articles. For example:

  • "Unlike the swingers community, polyamorists aren't in it for the sex, they say, they're in it for the love." (Epstein, 2004)[20]
  • "Polyamory is not promiscuous superficial, unthinking irresponsible sex. Polyamory is not swinging. In my mind swinging is a perfectly responsible choice when neither party is coerced. But when swingers agree that they won't develop loving relationships with the people they swing with, swingers aren't polyamorous. When swingers do develop lasting, loving friendship with their swing partners I would say that what they're doing is indistinguishable from polyamory." (White, 2004)[21]

The distinction has even gained some acceptance among Web sites devoted to polyamory and swinging. The polyamory Web sites prefer the terms "polyamory" and "swinging", as illustrated by these examples:

  • "In any case, polyamory is about stable intimate, emotionally committed relationships rather than casual sex. Swinging is defined as recreational sexual activity, also called 'sport sex' where partner(s) or participant(s) agree to have casual sex with each other(s). There is usually no emotional involvement. Swingers generally practice recreational sex activities without the development of love, affection or personal intimacy. With polyamory, there is no such restriction, and the intent is to allow such emotional intimacy to exist, develop, and grow between the people involved." (PolyamorySociety.Org)[22]
  • "There is a major distinction to be made between what is called 'Swinging' and Polyamory. In swinging, the intent is to engage in non-monogamous sexual behavior without the development of love, affection or personal intimacy between oneself and the secondary partners. Swingers generally seek to engage in recreational sex without emotional intimacy. With polyamory, there is no such restriction, and the intent is to allow such emotional intimacy to exist, develop, and grow between the people involved." (Polyamory.Com)[23]

The swinging Web sites prefer Gould's[24] terms of "utopic" and "recreational swingers".

  • "There are two types of swingers, the recreational swingers and the utopian swingers. The recreational swingers view swinging as a social activity, much like playing tennis or golf, or going out to the movies. Although they may make emotional attachments and friendships through swinging, they might do the same thing golfing but find swinging more pleasurable. Utopian swingers are swinging because they believe that marriage is inherently oppressive due to its dependence on a lack of freedom and the existence of control over one's partner. They do not wish for either their partner or for themselves to experience this type of oppression. Therefore, although they may have made a lifetime commitment to their partner (or they may not have due to their sociopolitical analysis), they want to allow their relationship to be as free as possible. Swinging is one way to make a relationship less restrictive and oppressive." (SelectSwingers.Org)[25]
  • "It is generally felt that you can divide swingers into two groups. Those who participate for recreational sex only and those who participate for utopian reasons. Recreational swingers see swinging as a social activity, much like bowling and playing tennis and cards. Utopian swingers have a general philosophy of sharing not only sex, but all other aspects of life with their fellow participants." (CloudNine)[26]

The distinction between polyamory and swinging has started to gain a reasonable amount of acceptance, finding its way into academic literature, popular media, and Web sites devoted to polyamory and swinging.

The distinction between polyamory and swinging applies to open marriages. A polyamorous style of open marriage emphasizes the expansion of loving relationships by developing emotional attachments to extramarital partners. A swinging style of open marriage emphasizes physical gratification by engaging in recreational sex with extramarital partners.

Psychological basisEdit

The preference for a polyamorous versus a swinging style of open marriage may depend on many psychological factors. One factor may be sociosexuality.[27] Sociosexuality refers to an individual's willingness to engage in sexual behavior without having emotional ties to the sex partner. Individuals who are very willing to engage in sexual behavior without emotional ties are said to have unrestricted sociosexuality. Individuals who are very unwilling to engage in sexual behavior without emotional ties are said to have restricted sociosexuality. Individuals can vary along a continuum from unrestricted to restricted sociosexuality.

Community implicationsEdit

Couples with different styles of open marriage tend to self-segregate in order to find others who share similar philosophies and interests. This has likely contributed to the development of separate polyamory and swinging communities.

The polyamory community is better suited for couples who prefer a polyamorous style of open marriage. The swinging community is better suited for couples who prefer a swinging style of open marriage. However, some couples may not have a strong preference for either style of open marriage. These couples may feel equally at home in both the Polyamory community and the Swinging community. The partners within a couple may also differ in their preferences. One partner may prefer a polyamorous style of open marriage and participate in the Polyamory community, while the other partner may prefer a swinging style of open marriage and participate in the swinging community. Variations in couple preferences and individual preferences thus result in a certain amount of overlap between the polyamory and swinging communities.

Finally, it should be pointed out that couples may have open marriages without participating in either the polyamory community or the swinging community.

Common issuesEdit

Despite their distinctions, all open marriages share common issues: lack of social acceptance, the need to maintain the relationship as a couple, and the need to manage jealousy.


Evidence of disapprovalEdit

Surveys show consistently high disapproval of extramarital sex. Hunt briefly mentions three surveys conducted in the 1960s in which large majorities disapproved of extramarital sex under any conditions (see page 255 of his book Sexual Behavior in the 1970s).[6] More recent surveys show that 75–85 percent of adults in the United States disapprove of extramarital sex.[28][29][30][31][32] Similar levels of disapproval are observed in other Western societies. Widmer, Treas, and Newcomb surveyed over 33,500 people in 24 nations and found 85 percent of people believed extramarital sex was "always" or "nearly always" wrong.[33] However, disapproval of extramarital sex does not specifically imply disapproval of open marriage, since open marriage does not always involve extramarital sex.

Much of that disapproval is attributed to "religious and moral reasons."[34]

A few studies have shown more direct disapproval of open marriage. In a national study of several hundred women and men, Hunt reported that around 75 percent of women and over 60 percent of men agreed with the statement "Mate-swapping is wrong."[6] A study of several hundred men and women living in the midwestern United States found that 93 percent would not consider participating in swinging.[5] Yet another study asked 111 college women about various forms of marriage and family.[35] These young women viewed open marriage as one of the least desirable forms of marriage, with 94 percent saying they would never participate in a marriage where the man has a right to sex outside the marriage, and 91 percent saying they would never participate in a marriage where the woman has a right to sex outside the marriage.

The evidence thus shows strong social disapproval of open marriage. Very large majorities of people in Western societies disapprove of extramarital sex in general, and substantial majorities feel open marriage is wrong even when the spouses agree to it. Nine out of ten people say they would never consider open marriage for themselves.

Religious objectionsEdit

Some critics object to open marriages on the ground that open marriages violate religious principles.

Generally, non-monogamous people tend not to be very religious. A 1998 review observed that, across the various studies, most swingers (approximately two-thirds) claimed to have no religious affiliation.[36]

Health concernsEdit

Engaging in sex with a greater number of partners increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Since open marriages increase the number of sex partners by allowing extramarital relationships, open marriages increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. This has led some people to reject open marriage as a legitimate lifestyle option.

People in open marriages themselves worry about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. One study found that 33 percent of male swingers and 10 percent of female swingers feared catching a sexually transmitted disease.[37] In another study, sexually transmitted diseases topped the list of disadvantages of swinging, and 58 percent of swingers expressed some fear of catching HIV/AIDS.[36][38] Some couples have decided to drop out of open marriage lifestyles and become sexually monogamous in response to HIV/AIDS.[38][14]

The risk of sexually transmitted diseases can be greatly reduced by practicing safer sex. However, the percentage of people in open marriages who practice safer sex remains disputed. Anecdotal observations range from claiming no one at an event practiced safer sex to claiming everyone at an event practiced safer sex. A survey of swingers found that:

"Over 62% said that they had changed their behaviors because of the AIDS scare. The two most frequently mentioned changes were being more selective with whom they swung and practicing safer sex (e.g., using condoms). Almost 7% said they had quit swinging because of the AIDS epidemic. Finally, one third said that they had not changed any of their habits, and, of these respondents, more than a third said nothing, not even AIDS, would get them to change." (Jenks, 1998)[36]

Although a majority of swingers reported changing their behaviors in response to HIV/AIDS, some chose to become more selective in choosing partners rather than adopting safer sex practices. Greater selectivity in choosing partners is not a reliable means of reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Many people are not aware they are infected, and no outwards signs of infection may be visible. One psychological study suggests people may not be particularly good at detecting lies about HIV status.[39] Remarkably, one-third of swingers flatly rejected the idea of changing their behaviors in response to HIV/AIDS. These finding suggest people involved in open marriages may indeed be at somewhat greater risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

These concerns do not apply to open marriage alone. The same health concerns also apply to serial monogamy (i.e., marriage, divorce, and remarriage).

This means a large segment of the general population has multiple sex partners through the practice of serial monogamy. In contrast, only 1 to 6 percent of the married population engage in open marriage.[6][5][36][40]

Psychological concernsEdit

Several authors consider open marriages to be psychologically damaging. They claim sexual non-monogamy proves too difficult for most couples to manage, and their relationships suffer as a consequence:

  • "…all variations upon this theme have proven disruptive to the marriages of most of those who have practiced them, and too threatening to the majority of those who have not to be seriously tried out. Relatively few people, even today, manage to make permissive marriage work at all, let alone work better than exclusive marriage. For although marriage no longer has the structural support of religion, community, law, or practical necessity, today there is something else that makes exclusivity, or the appearance of it, immensely important--namely, the loneliness and disconnectedness of modern life, which creates a deep need in modern man and woman to belong, and to have a binding emotional connection to someone else. And since for most people sex is so closely bound up with deep emotions, extramarital sexual acts are severely threatening to the emotional identity and security that marriage seems to offer." (Hunt, 1974, pages 239–240)[6]
  • "Images of 'open marriage' to the contrary, an extreme commitment to such a relationship can do more to weaken rather than to strengthen marital attractions. If one partner becomes immersed in relations that consciously exclude the other, the fullness of marital interaction may be threatened—depending, of course, on how the other spouse interprets the action. A jealous partner can perceive even a mild detachment as threatening. Some spouses may not be at all disturbed by their partner's withdrawal or alternate affairs, but such extreme tolerance is rare. A key question is whether the externally involved spouse will eventually prefer the alternative enough to desire a rupture of the present relationship." (Levinger, 1979, pages 42–43)[41]
  • "It is not that I feel any deep-rooted moral objection to a lack of sexual exclusiveness in long-term relationships. It is rather that I am increasingly aware of the difficulties that the vast majority of humans have in coping with it. The ideal of the open marriage seems to me to be a fine one. In addition to the central primary relationship, it recognises other less permanent, sexual or non-sexual relationships, which may in themselves be mutually rewarding and self-fulfilling. But few primary relationships can survive such apparent if unintended challenges. The essential security of the dyad is weakened, and further undermined by the ravages of jealousy." (Bancroft, 1989, page 10)[42]
  • "Proponents feel that an open marriage does not substitute new regulations for old ones; rather, it suggests ways in which couples can learn to communicate openly with one another in order to arrive at a fully understood and mutual consensus for living. An open marriage encourages trust, freedom, and open communication, both within and outside the boundaries of marriage. If so desired, partners are free to engage in other sex friendships and even in extramarital sex —although the latter is a controversial area. All points considered, this nontraditional lifestyle is not practical for most couples since it is likely to promote feelings of insecurity, resentment toward outside parties, and sexual jealousy." (Turner, 1996, page 312)[43]
  • "Even if the problem of fairness can be solved, at least theoretically, by both spouses agreeing that each will have an affair, simple equality of extramarital sex is not a reliable solution: it only works if both spouses want the same mix of novelty and predictability in their sex lives. Often they don't. The traditional claim that men crave variety in sexual matters more than women is looking increasingly shaky. Between the era of Madame Bovary and today's covers of Cosmopolitan, many woman have become much more comfortable noticing and acknowledging an interest in sexual novelty. Still, the problem of a mismatch between two individuals married to each other is not resolved by invoking the average desires of men and women. The strategy of equal numbers of lovers for both spouses also assumes that jealousy disappears just because an arrangement is fair. Despite the sunny optimism of a phrase like 'open marriage,' real-life experiences are usually a lot messier." (Olds & Schwartz, 2000, page 40)[44]

These authors contend that sexual non-monogamy provokes jealousy in couples. This disrupts couples' sense of security in their relationships and interferes with their sense of intimacy. Consequently, these authors view open marriage as a "failed" lifestyle.

In fact, the impact of open marriage varies across couples. Some couples report high levels of satisfaction and enjoy long-lasting open marriages.[45][46][13] Other couples drop out of the open marriage lifestyle and return to sexual monogamy. These couples may continue to view open marriage as a valid lifestyle for others, but not for themselves.[14] Still other couples experience problems and report that open marriage contributed to their divorces.[47] Investigators do not yet know why couples respond to open marriages differently.

Loss of social supportEdit

Due to strong social disapproval of open marriages, people in open marriages frequently try to hide their lifestyle to family, friends, and colleagues.[36][4][48] Blumstein and Schwartz note:

"Openly non-monogamous married and cohabiting couples often feel they are thought of as bizarre or immoral by the rest of their world. They have to work out their sex lives in opposition to the rest of society. They may have an understanding with each other, but they usually keep it secret from family, friends, and people at work." (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983, pages 294–295).[4]

Keeping their lifestyles secret reduces the amount of social support available to people in open marriages. Numerous studies have shown that social support carries many psychological and physical health benefits.[49][50][51][52] [53][54][55][56] Thus, strong social disapproval of open marriage may lead to a loss of psychological and health benefits for couples in open marriages.

Legal issuesEdit

Whether an open marriage is with the knowledge, consent or encouragement of the partners, the practice may still be regarded as extramarital sex or adultery, which may be illegal in some jurisdictions.


The percentage of men and women actively involved in open marriages may be determined from data reported in 1983 by Blumstein and Schwartz.[4] Out of 3,498 married men, 903 had an agreement with their spouses allowing extramarital sex; out of these 903 married men with an agreement allowing extramarital sex, 24 percent (or 217 men) actually engaged in extramarital sex during the previous year. This means about 6 percent (i.e., 217 / 3498) of married men were actively involved in open marriages during the previous year. The number is only slightly less for married women. Out of 3,520 married women, 801 had an agreement with their spouses allowing extramarital sex; out of these 801 married women with an agreement allowing extramarital sex, 22 percent (or 176 women) actually engaged in extramarital sex during the previous year. This means about 5 percent (i.e., 176 / 3520) of married women were actively involved in open marriages during the previous year.

The estimates based on the Blumstein and Schwartz study are slightly higher than estimates provided by other researchers. Hunt, based on interviews from a 1974 national study of sexual behavior, estimated that 2–4 percent of the married population is involved in open marriages.[6] Bartell (1971) estimated that 2 percent of the married population is involved in open marriages.[40] The lowest estimate comes from a study conducted by Spanier and Cole (1975) of several hundred people living in the midwestern United States. This study found just 1.7 percent of married people involved in open marriages.[5]

Following the 1972 publication Open Marriage, the popular media expressed a belief that open marriages were on the rise. This belief turned out to be incorrect. Comparing data from the earlier Kinsey studies with his own data, Hunt concluded the incidence of extramarital sex had remained about the same for many years:

"In sharp contrast to most of our findings thus far, our data in this area suggest that in the past generation there has been almost no measurable increase in the number of American husbands who ever have extramarital experience, and only a limited increase in the number of American wives who do so. The overall incidence for our sample of married men of all ages appears to be basically unchanged from that of a generation ago. Only among men under 25 do we find any significant increase, but even that increase is of modest proportions. As for our sample of married women, there is no evidence of any overall increase in incidence compared to a generation ago. Among wives under 25, however, there is a very large increase, but even this has only brought the incidence of extramarital behavior for these young women close to—but not yet on par with—the incidence of extramarital behavior among under-25 husbands." (Hunt, 1974, page 254)[6]

Hunt attributed the mistaken impression of increasing open marriages to a barrage of books, articles, and television shows dealing with the topic. He also notes that speculative comments about increases in open marriage would sometimes be repeated often enough that people cited them as evidence.

Nearly twenty years later (1993), in a national study of sexual behavior, Janus and Janus likewise denied that open marriages were on the rise. In fact, they suggested the number of open marriages may have declined:

"Despite popularization in a book of that title in the early 1970s, open marriage has never become as prevalent as nonconsensual extramarital activities, and its popularity seems to be waning even further today." (Janus & Janus, 1993, pages 197–198)[57]

Open marriage remains a controversial topic capable of generating much media interest. A large amount of media interest can mislead people into thinking the incidence of open marriage is on the rise. Conversely, media attention given to the marriage movement can mislead people into thinking the incidence of open marriage is declining. Weiss notes:

"Despite the vast attention given to these alternative lifestyles in the 1970s, and despite the more recent claims that Americans are 'returning to traditional models of monogamous marriage,' there is no scientific basis for concluding that these patterns increased in popularity earlier or that they have become less common in the 1980s and 1990s." (Weiss, 1997) [58]

Investigators have found no reliable evidence that open marriage has either increased or decreased substantially over the last two generations.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Johnson, H.M. (1960). Sociology: A Systematic Introduction. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.
  2. ^ Jacobsohn, P., & Matheny, A.P. (1963). Mate selection in open marriage systems. In K. Ishwaran and J.M. Mogey (Eds.), Family and Marriage (pp. 98-123). Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, Publisher.
  3. ^ Fox, Margalit (26 March 2006). "Nena O'Neill, 82, an Author of 'Open Marriage,' Is Dead" – via 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Blumstein, , & Schwartz, P. (1983). American Couples: Money, Work, Sex. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company.
  5. ^ a b c d Spanier G.B., & Cole C.L. (1975). Mate swapping: Perceptions, value orientations, and participation in a midwestern community. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 4, 143–159.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Hunt, M. (1974). Sexual Behavior in the 1970s. Chicago, IL: Playboy Press.
  7. ^ Forste, R., & Tanfer, K. (1996). Sexual exclusivity among dating, cohabitating, and married women. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 33–47.
  8. ^ Treas, J., & Giesen, D. (2000). Sexual infidelity among married and cohabitating Americans. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 48–60.
  9. ^ Buunk B. (1981). Jealousy in sexually open marriages. Alternative Lifestyles, 4, 357–372.
  10. ^ Ramey J. W. (1975). Intimate groups and networks: Frequent consequences of sexually open marriage. Family Coordinator, 24, 515–530.
  11. ^ Trost, M. R., Brown, S., & Morrison, M. (1994). Jealousy as an adaptive communication strategy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Speech Communication Association, New Orleans, LA.
  12. ^ Pines, A., & Aronson, E. (1983). Antecedents, correlates, and consequences, of sexual jealousy. Journal of Personality, 51, 108–136.
  13. ^ a b Rubin A. M., & Adams J. R. (1986). Outcomes of sexually open marriages. Journal of Sex Research, 22, 311–319.
  14. ^ a b c d Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J., & Pryor, D.W. (1995). Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
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Further readingEdit

  • Block, J. (2009). Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage. Seal Press. ISBN 978-1580052757
  • O'Neill, N. / O'Neill, George (1984). Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples. M. Evans & Company. ISBN 978-0871314383
  • Schott, O. (2014). In Praise of Open Relationships. On Love, Sex, Reason, and Happiness. Bertz + Fischer Publishing. ISBN 978-3-86505-725-9

External linksEdit