The One Social Factor That Influences How You Think Of Monogamy

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how you define monogamy

Hint: It's not your age!

Late last year, there was a lot of talk online about the “monogamy spectrum.” YouGov had released a research study asking people about their feelings about monogamy and how you define monogamy, and their survey results were broken down by age group, gender, race, and other criteria.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the study was how YouGov asked their respondents to rank their commitment to monogamy. Rather than present monogamy as an absolute binary — i.e., “Are you into monogamy or not?” — the group offered a sliding scale.

For example, one of their questions was: “On a scale where 0 is completely monogamous and 6 is completely non-monogamous, what would your ideal relationship be?”

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When the results were published, many referred to that 0 to 6 scale as “the monogamy spectrum.” One Washington Post article about the survey asked, “Since sexuality and gender aren’t understood as binary anymore, does monogamy have to be?”

Most articles about the YouGov results, while noting this new monogamy spectrum, went on to point out that millennials (age 30 and under) had the least devotion to strict monogamy, with only 51 percent saying that their ideal relationship would be completely monogamous.

I suppose that is noteworthy, and you can see a trend where age groups are more interested in “completely monogamous” relationships as they age. But the conclusion of “millennials just aren’t into monogamy anymore” is a pretty big leap.

Here’s why: The “monogamy spectrum” that YouGov provides is fairly undefined. If 0 is totally monogamous and 6 is the opposite, what does 1 mean? Or 2 or 3?

Does a 1 mean that you look lustfully at another person and never do anything about it? Or does it mean you kissed someone outside of your relationship once? 3 is right in the middle, so what does that mean? An attempt for an extra-relationship thing was attempted? Or you went through with it, but it was only that one time?

When you look at the breakdowns of how the age groups responded to the survey, there isn’t that much statistical difference in how they responded. Yes, age 65+ seems the most devoted to complete monogamy, but we can also see that as the age group most likely to say, “What the hell does 2 mean? I don’t have time for this.”

The millennials might’ve spread their votes across the “monogamy spectrum” a little more liberally, but we can also see them as the group that was probably the most likely to try to figure out the difference between a 2 and a 4 rating on the scale.

Interestingly enough, the percentage of millennials who favored “completely non-monogamous” relationships was pretty consistent with the other age groups:

Seven percent of people under 30 said their ideal relationship was non-monogamous. For ages 30-44 and ages 45-64, that percentage only rose to 9 percent.

So, the age groups are actually fairly similar on how they feel about completely open relationships. As for the spectrum, again, it just comes down to where people put their numbers on the ill-defined scale.

For the 0-6 monogamy scale for ideal relationships, 10 percent of millennials said their ideal relationship would be a 3 — that’s the same percentage that ages 45-64 gave for 3 as well.

However, if you do look at the survey results, the most interesting results are NOT about age groups. They’re about race. The biggest variations in survey responses come in the sections where the respondents are broken down by race.

For example, in the 0-6 ideal relationship question, 69 percent of white respondents said that their ideal relationship was completely monogamous. Yet only 43 percent of black respondents and 35 percent of Hispanic respondents said the same thing.

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That means only HALF of all Hispanic respondents felt the same way as white respondents about strict monogamy.

In a follow-up question, where YouGov asked people to rank their current relationship on the 0-6 monogamy scale, the results vary even more by race. Eighty-one percent of white respondents, 50 percent of black respondents, and only 32 percent of Hispanic respondents said their current relationship is completely monogamous.

Those are HUGE differences between those groups, and I can’t understand why those results weren’t the primary takeaway from the survey data.

Because the age group differences on monogamy are MINOR in comparison, but maybe that makes a better story or suggests an easier conclusion. We can say, “Well, young people are more open-minded, I guess,” and see the fluctuations on the monogamy scale as some sign that polyamory or non-traditional monogamy is the wave of the future.

But when you look at the data, I have to admit: I’m much more interested in finding out why racial groups seem to feel so differently about monogamy. Is it a cultural thing? Does it have any socio-political origins? Do certain groups just inherently reject binary labels more than others?

Hopefully, YouGov and other groups will provide some follow-up research for how you define monogamy, because, more than anything, this survey raised more questions than it answered. And it's crucial to take any sort of "morality" out of this conversation. 

I’m still not sure that I believe in a monogamy spectrum, but I’m more interested than ever in finding out how certain age and racial groups define that nebulous space between 0 and 6.

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Tom Burns is a husband, a dad, and a veteran of the educational publishing industry, living just outside of Detroit Rock City. After years of obsessing about what his daughter was reading, he founded, a website devoted to helping parents find the right books for their kids.