30 Comments

Fantastic survey and love to see the results, thank you.

I took it, and I was one of those people in the middle of spectrum stuck "sucking a bag of dicks" -- i.e. I'm at the bottom of the u-shaped curve on most of these results. It's easy to explain. FWIW I'm a cis married female in my 40s.

I answered in the middle because I would absolutely *love* to sleep with other people, but I sure as hell DON'T want my husband to. I imagine most of us in that middle area are the same.

Or, like me, we're people who tried cheating or being polyamorous in the past and the shit blew up in our faces so spectacularly that we just resigned ourselves to being monogamous even though it's somewhat painful.

In other words, it's a trade-off and there is simply no way we will ever be satisfied, without risking a lot. I absolutely want other partners. But not so bad I'm going to risk screwing up my life or losing my partner. So instead I'll just fantasize and dream about it. That of course necessarily means I am less open on that topic, because he doesn't want to hear that. I'm pretty sure he feels the same way. And I'm necessarily more ambivalent and less satisfied about the necessary trade-offs, but there's no better option. We both mutually feel we are the best possible partner the other could have, by a long shot, but that doesn't mean that only sleeping with each other the rest of our lives isn't hard and somewhat sucky. That's just reality. One that blissfully monogamous or fully poly people don't have to deal with.

One thing you did not ask about, which I would love to know, is how many people were previously in a poly relationship or attempted it, but quit and swore them off because of the dumpster fire that ensued. I know a LOT of people that applies to. In fact, it applies to everyone I know who attempted it.

For myself, I was in a poly relationship for several years around age 30 until it ended up resulting in felonies, attempted suicides, divorce, job loss, and threats of murder (not on my part but others). And I decided at that point that the potential for destructive and violent aggression when a human's sexual jealousy is provoked -- ESPECIALLY male sexual jealousy -- is not even remotely worth messing around with. It is a very powerful, dangerous, and unpredictable force. I know many others who went through the same thing with trying it and then giving up when it resulted in massive chaos and destruction -- and I am talking about people who thought it was the best thing ever at one point.

It looks like people who can be successfully poly for the long term have it made. Cheers to them. And I realize that monogamy also has a pretty good track record of resulting in divorce, suicide, and chaos. But usually that's when one or both partners fail to abide by the rules, not when they're both following them. My ex went off the deep end and permanently messed up his life even though we all played by the poly rules.

Anyway, you hypothesized here about people in mid-life giving up on monogamy and becoming poly, but I would guess that it is the other way around. Most have given up on trying to be poly by then, because it blew up in their faces. The ones who remain are really unusually good at it.

Also, on your question about the weird bump in sexual activity between ages 40 and 50: I think I know why. Society tells you that turning 30 is a big deal and less desirable after that. Everyone aged 29 is terrified, then it comes and goes and it was a big lie. Your 30s are awesome. But it's around 45-50 that reality rears its head. Things are sagging, heads are balding, body parts are not working as well as they used to. The prospect of even displaying your naked body to a new lover becomes increasingly daunting. And there's a biological impulse that kicks in that tells you "use it or lose it, NOW." I have seen many, many long married people that age, otherwise quite happy, who go on a rather intense swinging or cheating or simply lecherous phase that ramps up when your biology is screaming at you that it's your last chance and no one is ever going to want to bang you again in 3, 2, 1... So I think that's what explains that. People suddenly want to get all their shagging in while they still have options.

Last, I honestly don't see why the answers of anyone under age 25, or really under age 30, are relevant in the slightest. I get they're a big part of your sample, but you might as well throw their answers in the trash. People are SO naive and hopeful at that point, and it's easy to hack it in a relationship for a few years, anyone can do it, who cares. The vast majority of people in that age range will not be with the same partner by age 40. Many will have radically changed their views based on their experiences. It would be interesting information for a follow up in a decade to see what has changed, but at a point in time, the "relationship style" of a 23 year old is worthless.

If you had asked me at age 30 what I thought of polyamory, I would have said it was amazing the best and monogamy is for suckers and sheep. By 35, I wouldn't have touched a poly situation with a ten foot pole. It took years for me to recover the financial and life losses I incurred by messing around with it and thinking I could overcome primal instincts with enlightened behavior.

Anyway, great study and keep it up. This is the kind of thing I have always wished I could do. "They should do a study" is the most often-used phrase out of my mouth.

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I don't like your tone, you pretend to be wise just because of your age but in fact you live unhappy, miserable life in some criminal, pathologic surroundings. I bet that vast majority of people in their 20 and even teens knows better what they expect from relationship and how to mantain it simply because they are totaly aware of their monogamy. If any opinion should land in trash it's yours because you failed to fulfill your desires and chose to limit yourself just to stay in toxic relationship just the way like wifes of alcoholics and abusers do.

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No, sorry, you mis-read, I said that was my EX, not my current husband. The dumpster fire occurred with the man I lived with for seven years in my late 20s/early 30s, and our life was a perfectly normal one of graduate schools and jobs and a house, til we blew it all up and once things became volatile I left him, and paid quite a lot to untangle myself.

For what it's worth, your assumptions about "criminal, pathologic" surroundings is a bit funny, because everyone I've known who went through the things I described was an affluent professional, prior to introducing chaos into their lives, all smarties who were (obviously) more open-minded than most, but normal people: four lawyers, a psychologist, a speech pathologist, two teachers, and some finance and tech people. I think that's the type most likely to get into experimenting with open relationships in the first place, because they have very comfortable, regulated, perhaps a bit boring, responsible, regimented lives, high intelligence to give them confidence in their own decision-making ability, and the security and stability to undertake something that isn't socially sanctioned. That's the target market right. Or maybe they're just more prone to lose it when a very thrilling new part of their life occurs that totally overwhelms the more mundane aspects, I don't know.

Anyway, that is not a situation I have anything to do with now, and I'm certainly not miserable, that's ridiculous. My husband is literally the best. It is precisely because my life is excellent that I absolutely would not risk any of it over sexual urges that people have grappled with through all of history. It's just not that big of a deal and not remotely worth it. If my life sucked, then yeah hot sex would be a good reason to risk losing what I have. But it absolutely is not because what I have is very difficult to obtain and hard won, and I'm very lucky. No way I'm risking that. I just don't need to lie to myself about monogamy not being difficult over the long-term, and thus a trade off.

Not sure I've pretended to be wise, but the older one is, the more things they've experienced and lived through, so....? Aella's data clearly shows that relationships get worse over time...the first 1-3 years is bliss and rainbows, things slowly degrade for a few more years, and then after around 7 you hit a steady (lower) state. Young people simply have not been adults long enough to have experience dealing with the hard part over the long term, so their ideas about how it will be for them are entirely hypothetical.

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Hoarding anecdotical data through your life doesn't make you wiser just because of your age. I'm not criticizing your experiences, it's ok you had them and share them there but saying that opinion of anyone under 25 or 30 should land in trashbin is extremly rude and I see it as a bigger discourse in paternalizing young people. I know how totaly annoying is listening to such ageistic bullshit as I experienced alot of it in my life and surprise - nothing that elders told me was right and my mindset didn't change a bit since teenage years. I had vasectomy at 20y, 2 weeks after procedure I started relationship with sexworker and now, 15y later we are still happily living together. The fact that young people make mistakes doesn't mean that majority of them do. And looking at how much knowledge is easily avaiable for anyone with few mouse clicks I believe that nowadays young people much faster can find their way and make good choices compared to older generations repeating the schemes and conditioned to follow one morality. Not to mention that decisions ain't permanent and if you simply change your mind you can change your life too, what's good for you in 20' may not enjoy you in 30' and is it a reason to put happines of younger people in trashbin as something irrevelant?

Sure, give advices, young people are not stupid and gonna take them into consideration making decisions but have some respect for them and their choices. It's not a math, everyone's different and every decision can be good if fits person taking it.

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I don't think young people's opinions should be put in the trash on EVERYTHING. But the data analyzed here seems to be about comparing what happens in relationships, especially over the long term, and for THAT particular topic, yeah, I don't think their answers provide relevant information because they haven't been in relationships that long. And what a relationship is like the first couple years is irrelevant because all the infatuation and feel good chemicals are happening. Also, the survey wasn't about opinions, it was about experiences.

I decided by age 14 I did not want to have children and I have stuck by that decision and never wavered for a moment the next three decades, and am very happy about that. So plenty of things can be known earlier, by young people. But what it feels like to be in a long term sexual/romantic relationship isn't one of them, and people's predictions about their future feelings when they're in the "in love" stage are quite poor. I don't think the internet helps much because these are topics people lie about frequently and very prone to social desirability bias. And I think including 18-25 year olds -- as the largest sample size no less -- skews the usefulness of the results on this particular topic, though Aella did a good job working around that.

You may not like my tone because I swear and use hyperbolic words, but that's on purpose. I find the rationalist manner of writing to be highly annoying even though I like their ideas. But so many insist on communicating their ideas in a sterile, non-vivid, and passive manner that strikes me as being more concerned with showing off how much of a robot they can sound like rather than communicating their point clearly. No one is confused by my meaning when I say "I think" rather than "I've updated my priors" or "trash bin" rather than whatever the fancy I-float-above-the-fray way of saying not valuable is.

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To have a full view of the topic opinion of young people is crucial as it can show change over time and prove your point. The way you treat them looks like just cheap way to appreciate yourself at their cost. Vast majority of even very young people are absolutely aware of their or other peoples monogamy and jealousy without need of 20y experience and dozens of partners to test it. Even teens break up and rage when they are cheated on in their very first relationships. It's not like they can't have valuable experiences and opinions on the topic just because of their age. Open relationship caused problems in your life in mid 30, ok, but for many youner people it will be first time that gives them enough lesson if they misunderstood their needs.

Speaking of jealousy I have my own opinion about that, I think it's only social construct and conditioning especially when it comes to wreaking havoc male jealousy you described. As for me I don't even know what this feeling is, I've never been jealous in my live about anyone or anything. I guess it's because lifestyle of my parents who despite marriage openly had affairs outside of it and treated is as something absolutely normal. Well, actually my father had tons of smaller, short affairs while my mother is in one super long side-relationship with her friend from teenage years and they still travel only together despite being way over 60+ and staying in marriages. :) Another positive example in my life was my grandpa who was the warmest and the nicest person I've ever knew and also was extremly sex-positive, non-judging and reminisced even the shortest affairs he had until the very end of his life hitting almost 100y. I suppose he managed to live that long due to his awesome life attitude. Such people in my childhood definitely eradicated any jealousy and sexual toxicity from my further personality and let me enjoy my life without limits. What I lack in Aellas research this time is exactly how following or going against types of relationships we were brought up in results in our happiness, satisfaction and lenght of them. Correlations could be interesting but well, who knows? :)

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Seems a bit harsh.

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About the 20-year spike, I think I know what's going on. It's empty nest syndrome. People who have been together 20-25 years probably eneded up having children together, and those children while living at home may have engendered a statistically significant bias toward monogamy in their parents. Then, when they leave the home, their parents who would have otherwise been open to being open start being open. This hypothesis might also explain the bump in non-monogamy at above 45 years of age.

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Walid-- that makes sense to me. I think this is commonly observed among swingers in 'the Lifestyle', and maybe poly is gradually replacing swinging among people in their 40s and 50s whose kids are leaving home??

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It's hard to tell I'd poly is replacing swinging just by looking at Aella's survey because she redefines poly to include swinging.

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I hope someone can check my hypothesis by cross-referencing the questions with a 20-year spike against the "number of children" question. Hopefully the sample size will not shrink to one or zero when we ask for "people ed hi have been in a relationship 20-25 years AND have no children AND are poly.

It does not have to be Aella since the data is there under the link she provided https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/0/d/180EK7HaTu-W9cKC599AeLMTVLRhxTAfbaLh9n-B4hek/htmlview#

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I wonder if people answered "slightly monogamous" as a kind of proxy for something like "I'm in a monogamous relationship but I don't actually really want to be monogamous/I want to be poly but can't". IE. I wonder if there's some relationship dissatisfaction coming through in the "mostly monogamous" and "partly monogamous" results.

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First of all, don't let anyone shit-talk you about not doing real research--if you are developing a hypothesis and doing experiments to test it, you are doing research. The scientific method never required a Ph.D. or a faculty position--a science career may require jumping through the appropriate hoops, but science can be done by all. Your survey data is larger than any academic one I've seen because, well, no IRB, no tenure committee, no student mob coming to stop you when you publish a result they don't like. Science has always had independent researchers, and they went down as data got harder and harder to collect...but now the Internet's bringing it back. Learn programming (as you are doing), learn statistics (which is easier!), and you can do better sociology than 99% of the sociologists out there, because you care more about the truth than any dumb political program.

As for the actual survey findings, the empty nest syndrome theory below sounds credible. I suspect 'slightly monogamous' and 'slightly polyamorous' people (and I definitely believe you can be ambiamorous in that regard, just like people are bi) lack social supports. If you're poly, you can find a poly community (or a poly-tolerant one like kink or queer), and if you're mono, you have the whole traditional apparatus of society to support you. But if you've got an SO you go places with and someone you do kink with once a week, you're always having to make excuses to the monogamists. Similarly, I suspect 'slightly poly' people may be people who lean that way but haven't fully committed to those communities for whatever reason. (My politics aren't left-wing enough, for instance, but there are countless other examples I am sure.) Low epistemic certainty, as Scott Alexander says, but it's a hypothesis to investigate.

I suppose it's before your time, but there was a fun little movie in the 80s called the Karate Kid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHg2eJHlyo4

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Mar 1, 2023·edited Mar 2, 2023

I think the results are probably converged a bit by dividing the data based on self-ID instead of normative situation. Taking people out of the polyamory cohort who have never actually participated in such a relationship or who report only one partner, for example, might produce some additional insightful results.

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Mar 1, 2023·edited Mar 1, 2023

I think the mid-spectrum dip probably captures a lot of people who would prefer to be monogamous but have taken up polyamoury for whatever reason. And perhaps it also captures poly people who are more poly but feel pressured into being monogamous for other whatever reasons.

A good question for future polls might be "Why are you not a +3 or -3 on the mono-poly scale?" and maybe "do you feel you and your partner have similar mono-poly preference?"

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Slightly monog people are cheating on their spouses. This explains the data.

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I am by no means suggesting that this describes the whole effect, but my expectation going into this would be that people who are strongly poly would feel a stronger need to emphasize, both inwardly and outwardly the health and strength of their relationships, specifically because it is a less well accepted relationship modality.

And so, when asked to rate a statement like "This relationship is good for me" I would expect that what might naturally be a "yes" from someone in a monogamous relationship would become an "of course" from someone in a poly relationship, as an unconscious reaction to the idea that society as a whole is telling them that the relationship is not good for them. I would expect that effect to show up even in an anonymous poll.

Again, who knows if or how much this is affecting these results, but I would be very reluctant to draw conclusions about the actual positions on the these statements across polyness when the variation tracks so well with what you might expect from straight social acceptability.

(And, as for the u-shaped nature of many of these curves, I also suspect that a great many of the people responding as "somewhat poly/monogamous" are actually in relationships where there is significant disagreement between the partners about the optimal degree of polyness. Not all of them, of course, some people really are "slightly poly." But enough for the resulting relationship friction to explain the dip.)

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> Before you proceed, try to consciously register some predictions to yourself.

I think it would be quite nice, for the next survey, to have some hypotheses for readers on which to place bets, either here or on Metaculus/Manifold.

It could happen a week or so before the results are published, perhaps with an ongoing contest!

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“Poly people have sex with waaaay more people, especially when they get older.”

I would be very interested to know the gender break down of this. If it’s mostly cis men having more sex or also women.

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I would have guessed more women having more sex, since isn't there more interest in polyamory among men?

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Im specifically interested in the age part. As I’ve experienced a huge difference in older men having sex with young women and it being “normal”.

But as A woman ages it’s harder to get a partner, you dont often see older with with young men as much as you do vice versa.

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Suggestions

1. The mono/poly criteria feel weird and there can be a lot of possible interpretations. I would drop all the Slightly Mon/Slightly Pol people and just divide the rest into 2 groups - mono and poly. Obviously, that means dropping every 6 point graphs you have on X scale with this variable. On the other hand, graphs like Relationship Length to Age is something I like a lot.

2. THE AGE QUESTION. There are several ways to control for age. You need first to see how all your answers track to age. If you kinda see a line somewhere, plug in the numeric variable into a linear model for that question. You can also split age intervals into 6-8-ish factors and see how it tracks there. This way you might notice effects that aren't linear.

Also, idk about the python code since I work in R, but make sure your variable type is correct. It might apply here as well. Your poly-ness scale should be interpreted as a factor, not as a numeric value. Even better, just do the point 1.

3. GEOGRAPHY IS IMPORTANT. A clean example would be the children graphs. I can easily imagine the differences being represented by a variables like urban/rural (and/or socioeconomic status), because people in rural places will tend to want more kids and be more monogamous. So this might be a better explanatory variable.

4. Another quality control issue that might pop up is the non-cis people. You seem to have way too many of them and I'm getting a feeling that a lot of people are misreporting this or have their own weird definitions. Be super careful about ANY conclusion regarding this.

5. Sex specific differences seem extremely important to include in a report like this, if there are any. You might also consider including Sex as a covariate in some situations, depending on the question you're trying to answer. Considering that you've got 70% males in here and no large differences, they might skew some results.

Other things:

-Use more boxplots instead of points, since SDs/IQRs are good to include.

-Provide more explanations. For example, when we go to the Jealousy part, I see Relationship Length on the X scale. It's interesting for me to know why you used it there. By default, my brain would go to keep it simple first and just boxplot mono/poly factors on X to the same Y and if there's a difference, try to stratify to figure out better why. It is also important to know if and where your graph data is adjusted for Age.

-Another curious thing to look into is for poly people - when did they go poly or was that their default? How did their relationship metrics change?

In rest, great job. I'm actually surprised to see so little differences between mono/poly people.

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I think the effect of having children explains a lot the divergence in mono/poly life history stuff. Many of the age-tracking graphs start out looking similar for both mono and poly people, then diverge in outcome around the 30 year mark which is when most educated developed world type people seem to seriously consider starting a family. It's not that hard to understand why, I don't think it's controversial to claim that the reason that monogamous marriage was (re)invented in basically every durable human culture is because it forms a socially and economically stable platform for raising kids. If someone is poly but is committed to having kids, you might expect that for practical reasons their relationship with their primary partner would collapse down into a state of monogamy when they cross that river, and raising a kid changes your life enough that it's probably difficult to revert to polyamory after you've done that.

My interpretation of the "valley" in the graphs showing a consistent dip in relationship quality among people who consider themselves "slightly" mono/poly is that those at least partly represent a cohort of people with a weaker understanding of their own relationship strategy and goals, and so many of them are probably not in stable and committed relationships of either kind and are more likely to be bouncing around between partners. The data imply they have more sex on average than either mono or poly people, but their reported sexual and relationship satisfaction and trust in their partners is also lower than both, so it seems reasonable to conclude that they often aren't bonding deeply with the people they consider themselves to be in relationships with.

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(1) I took a look at the survey before reading the results, but I wasn't able to complete it; it asked for my political outlook, but offered only variants of liberal and conservative. As a lifelong libertarian, I consider myself to be neither of those and reject the one-dimensional political spectrum. So the survey will have to do without my responses.

(2) I should want to know what the criterion is for full/mostly/slightly <category>. Is it simple personal choice of one or another label? Or is it a behavioral assessment based on self-reported behavior? I don't consider either of those to be really credible as a measure; we know that people's self-reports are often inaccurate. But the second would be less subjective than the first.

(3) The use of conventional American racial/ethnic categories bothers me, because those are culturally determined and don't necessarily reflect actual human genetics.

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Great data. Though, what we're missing here is the children's perspective in poly vs. monogamy. Would have loved to have had a section devoted to determining how much time poly people spend with their children through the years. Their attachment with their parents could be easily measured by how much time they want to spend with them even after they become adults. Does monogamy benefit children more than polyamory? It seems poly people aren't too committed to rearing children, according to the numbers. As for those few children who do find themselves with poly parents, one wonders if they suffer from lack of attention because their parents are juggling so many other relationships.

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Holy shit! Something about seeing these studies, stats and analyses is giving me so much hope. I have been a beleaguered "slightly poly" person who deeeep down inside is so completely poly but has never had the guts to commit to it. I see now that it has been my fear that has kept me in the "U" sucking bags of dicks forever! :P Aella, you have helped me tremendously to understand my predicament. It is really eye-opening to realize that poly is so rare! I've been mortified to be part of the 1.5 - 3%. But now I realize, I have to find a way to just come out and stay out.

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Any numbers on what percentage of poly men agree with Andrew Tate when it comes to relationships?

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