A May 2015 Avvo study of relationship trends across the United States finds that more men than women would consider open relationships. Men are more comfortable with the concept, with only 45% of men saying they are morally opposed to the idea of open relationships, compared to 62% of women.
And only 44% men say they would leave a partner if she asked to sleep with someone else, compared to 66% of women. This finding is just one example of the tension between traditional views of monogamy and marriage, and alternatives for creating relationship satisfaction.
94% of men satisfied, but 20% still cheat
However, this desire for open relationships doesn’t point to a lack of satisfaction in relationships among men. Of the 70% of U.S. adults currently in a relationship or marriage, more than 9 in 10 (94%) are satisfied with their relationships. According to noted sociologist and sexologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz, Americans’ relative comfort with the idea of open relationships is likely an idealized viewpoint that wouldn’t work as well in practice.
“I think many Americans like to think of themselves as liberal and sexually adventurous,” Schwartz said.
“It might sound sexy to have an open relationship, especially to young people. But the fact is most human beings are territorial, they don’t like sharing, and they especially don’t like sharing someone they are in love with.
Schwartz continues, “Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, and I have interviewed people who believe their open relationships are working out. But I think most men and women would find a sexually open relationship hard on their ego, and hard on their relationship.” — Dr. Pepper Schwartz
The Avvo study also found that satisfaction in a relationship doesn’t necessarily equal a track record of faithfulness. Despite the high rates of satisfaction reported, 1 in 6 have cheated on a partner. Again, men were more likely to report cheating than women, with 20% of men reporting having sex with someone without their partner’s permission, compared to just 13% of women.
Men strict in ideology, looser in practice
Surprisingly, despite their higher rates of acceptance of open relationships and higher likelihood to cheat on a partner, men typically reported more traditional views of marriage.
For example, more men than women think divorce is a sin, with 15% of men agreeing compared to 9% of women. Further, 27% of men also state that if a child is involved, a couple should get married, while only 16% of women feel the same way. And 17% of men believe couples with children should never divorce, no matter how they feel about each other — only 8% of women agree with that sentiment.
Women value happiness over togetherness, but want commitments in writing
On the flip side, women are more likely to say that they’d rather be alone than unhappy — 71% of women say they’d rather be alone, successful, and happy than in a relationship where they aren’t satisfied, compared to 61% of men. Women are also more likely to disagree that marriage should be a goal everyone has in life, with 44% of women disagreeing, compared to 29% of men.
While they may prioritize happiness over togetherness and shy away from hardline language of “sin,” when they are in a relationship, women do say they expect it to last. Women are significantly more likely to believe that relationships are meant to last — 75% of women compared to 55% of men. And they like the legal security that comes with marriage, with 46% of women agreeing with the statement “I don’t need a legal document to prove I love my partner” compared to 57% of men.
“While there are exceptions to this, most women don’t feel secure unless someone, as the song says, ‘put a ring on it’,” Schwartz said.
“There are no other acts of romance that say as much as marriage does because nothing else is a vow to be together forever” — Dr. Pepper Schwartz
Schwartz added, “Both women and men want to be married; but, perhaps fewer men feel as strongly because they are not going to be the mother of the couple’s child. Women’s need for commitment may come from this biological fact: a woman needs to be as sure as possible that the father of her child loves her and will want to stay and help support the family.”
In addition to differences between the sexes, the study also found regional differences in attitudes and reported behaviors:
Midwesterners are the most faithful
Only 10% of Midwesterners reported cheating on a partner compared with 16% of people in the Northeast, 17% in the South, and 20% in the West. Also, only 7% of married people in the Midwest have ever cheated on a partner, compared to 15% in the Northeast, 16% in the South, and 19% in the West.
The west coast is most accepting of open relationships
In the West, 24% of respondents were not morally opposed to open relationships, compared to 21% in the Northeast, 19% in the South, and 18% in the Midwest. Also, those on the west coast and in the Northeast are much less likely to disagree with the statement that it’s ok for other people to have an open relationship if that’s what they want, with 46% disagreeing in the Northeast and the West, compared to 48% in the South and 54% in the Midwest.
Northeasterners are the most jaded
When asked if relationships were meant to last, those in the Northeast were least likely to agree at 61%, compared to 63% in the South, 66% in the West, and 71% in the Midwest. Those in the Northeast are also most likely to date someone who is already married: 44% in the Northeast said they’d never date someone who’s married, compared to 54% in the Midwest, 55% in the South, and 53% in the West.