People who engage in both kink and consensual non-monogamy (CNM) have received little attention in research. The present article reports on the characteristics, relationship experiences, and unique motivations for engaging in CNM of kinky and consensually non-monogamous individuals using data from two U.S. samples—one large, national (N = 690) quantitative survey, and one qualitative study (N = 70) of adults in Northern California. The results describe the prevalence of universal (e.g., jealousy, sexual desire discrepancy) and population-specific relationship experiences (e.g., kink interest discrepancy, “coming out” about relationship structure). Findings indicate that discrepancies in desire for kink are a common relationship experience for kink–CNM individuals and that managing kink interests is an important motivation for CNM in this particular population. Implications for future research and clinical practice with kinky and consensually non-monogamous individuals are discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
American Psychological Association, APA Task Force on Psychological Practice with Sexual Minority Persons. (2021). Guidelines for psychological practice with sexual minority persons. Retrieved from www.apa.org/about/policy/psychological-practice-sexual-minority-persons.pdf
Balzarini, R. N., Dharma, C., Muise, A., & Kohut, T. (2019). Eroticism versus nurturance: How eroticism and nurturance differs in polyamorous and monogamous relationships. Social Psychology, 50(3), 185–200. https://doi.org/10.1027/1864-9335/a000378
Bannon, R. (2016). All in the family: Leather and kink families redefined. The Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved from http://www.ebar.com/bartab/article.php?sec=leather&article=333.
Bauer, R. (2010). Non-monogamy in queer BDSM communities: Putting the sex back into alternative relationship practices and discourse. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.), Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 154–165). Routledge.
Bauer, R. (2014). Queer BDSM intimacies: Critical consent and pushing boundaries. Palgrave Macmillan.
Boneau, C. A. (1960). The effects of violations of assumptions underlying the test. Psychological Bulletin, 57, 49–64. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0041412
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2012). Thematic analysis. In H. Cooper (Ed.), APA handbook of research methods in psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 57–71). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/13620-004
Brown, A., Barker, E. D., & Rahman, Q. (2020). A systematic scoping review of the prevalence, etiological, psychological, and interpersonal factors associated with BDSM. Journal of Sex Research, 57(6), 781–811. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2019.1665619
Call, V., Sprecher, S., & Schwartz, P. (1995). The incidence and frequency of marital sex in a national sample. Journal of Marriage and Family, 57, 639–652. https://doi.org/10.2307/353919
Carlström, C., & Andersson, C. (2019). The queer spaces of BDSM and non-monogamy. Journal of Positive Sexuality, 5(1), 14–19
Conley, T. D., Matsick, J. L., Moors, A. C., & Ziegler, A. (2017). Investigation of consensually nonmonogamous relationships: Theories, methods, and new directions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(2), 205–232.
Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Ziegler, A. (2013a). The fewer the merrier?: Assessing stigma surrounding consensually non-monogamous romantic relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13(1), 1–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1530-2415.2012.01286.x
Conley, T. D., Ziegler, A., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Valentine, B. (2013b). A critical examination of popular assumptions about the benefits and outcomes of monogamous relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 17(2), 124–141. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868312467087
Deri, J. (2015). Love’s refraction: Jealousy and compersion in queer women’s polyamorous relationships. University of Toronto Press.
Dunkley, C. R., & Brotto, L. A. (2018). Clinical considerations in treating BDSM practitioners: A review. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44(7), 701–712
Ferrer, J. (2018). Beyond the non/monogamy system: Fluidity, hybridity, and transcendence in intimate relationships. Psychology and Sexuality, 9(1), 3–20
Fulmen, A. (2016). The heart of dominance: A guide to practicing consensual dominance. Author.
Glover, C. (2018, November 7). It’s time to recenter kink and BDSM as part of radical queer history. Slate. https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/11/kink-bdsm-radical-queer-history.html
Green, R. (2007). Total power exchange in a modern family: A personal perspective. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 292–296). Palgrave Macmillan.
Hammack, P. L., Frost, D. M., & Hughes, S. D. (2019). Queer intimacies: A new paradigm for the study of relationship diversity. Journal of Sex Research, 56, 556–592. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1531281
Hoff, C. C., Beougher, S. C., Chakravarty, D., Darbes, L. A., & Neilands, T. B. (2010). Relationship characteristics and motivations behind agreements among gay male couples: Differences by agreement type and couple serostatus. AIDS Care, 22(7), 827–835. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540120903443384
Kink Clinical Practice Guidelines Project. (2019). Clinical practice guidelines for working with people with kink interests. Retrieved from https://www.kinkguidelines.com
Kleinplatz, P. J., & Diamond, L. M. (2014). Sexual diversity. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology: Vol. 1: Person-based approaches (1st ed., pp. 245–267). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/14193-000
Klesse, C. (2011). Notions of love in polyamory—Elements in a discourse on multiple loving. Laboratorium, 3(2), 4–25. https://www.ceeol.com/search/article-detail?id=72863
Labriola, K. (2010). Love in abundance: A counselor’s advice on open relationships. Greenery Press.
Lawrence, A. A., & Love-Crowell, J. (2007). Psychotherapists' experience with clients who engage in consensual sadomasochism: A qualitative study. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 34(1), 67–85.
Meidlinger, P. C., & Hope, D. A. (2014). Differentiating disclosure and concealment in measurement of outness for sexual minorities: The Nebraska Outness Scale. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(4), 489–497. http://dx.doi.org.ucsf.idm.oclc.org/10.1037/sgd0000080
Mogilski, J. K., Memering, S. L., Welling, L. L. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (2017). Monogamy versus consensual non-monogamy: Alternative approaches to pursuing a strategically pluralistic mating strategy. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 407–417. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0658-2
Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Schechinger, H. A. (2017). Unique and shared relationship benefits of consensually non-monogamous and monogamous relationships. European Psychologist, 22(1), 55–71. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000278
Moser, C., & Kleinplatz, P. J. (2007). Themes of SM expression. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 35–54). Palgrave Macmillan.
Muise, A., Laughton, A. K., Moors, A., & Impett, E. A. (2019). Sexual need fulfillment and satisfaction in consensually non-monogamous relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(7), 1917–1938. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407518774638
Murphy, M. J., & Bjorngaard, B. (2019). Living out loud: An introduction to LGBTQ history, society, and culture. Routledge.
Murphy, A. P., Joel, S., & Muise, A. (2021). A prospective investigation of the decision to open up a romantic relationship. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 12, 194–201. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550619897157
Neilands, T. B., LeBlanc, A. J., Frost, D. M., Bowen, K., Sullivan, P. S., Hoff, C. C., & Chang, J. (2020). Measuring a new stress domain: Validation of the Couple-Level Minority Stress Scale. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(1), 249–265
Newmahr, S. (2011). Playing on the edge: Sadomasochism, risk, and intimacy. Indiana University Press.
Ortmann, D., & Sprott, R. (2013). Sexual outsiders: Understanding BDSM sexualities and communities. Rowman and Littlefield.
Pines, A. M., & Friedman, A. (1998). Gender differences in romantic jealousy. Journal of Social Psychology, 138(1), 54–71.
Pitagora, D. (2016). The kink-poly confluence: relationship intersectionality in marginalized communities. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 31, 391–405. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2016.1156081
Quinn, D. M., & Chaudoir, S. R. (2009). Living with a concealable stigmatized identity: The impact of anticipated stigma, centrality, salience, and cultural stigma on psychological distress and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(4), 634–651. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015815
Rees, G., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). An investigation into the solitary and interpersonal aspects of sexual object fetishism: A mixed-methods approach. Psychology & Sexuality, 8(1–4), 252–267. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2017.1383301
Rehor, J. E. (2015). Sensual, erotic, and sexual behaviors of women from the “kink” community. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(4), 825–836. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0524-2
Rodrigues, D., Fasoli, F., Huic, A., & Lopes, D. (2018). Which partners are more human? Monogamy matters more than sexual orientation for dehumanization in three European countries. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 15(4), 504–515
Sakaluk, J. K., Quinn-Nilas, C., Fisher, A. N., Leshner, C. E., Huber, E., & Wood, J. R. (2020). Sameness and difference in psychological research on consensually non-monogamous relationships: The need for invariance and equivalence testing. Archives of Sexual Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01794-9
Schechinger, H., Sakaluk, J. K., & Moors, A. C. (2018). Harmful and helpful therapy practices with consensually non-monogamous clients: Toward an inclusive framework. PsyArXiv. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000349
Scherrer, K. S. (2010). Asexual relationships: What does asexuality have to do with polyamory? In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.), Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 166–171). Routledge.
Shahbaz, C., & Chirinos, P. (2017). Becoming a kink aware therapist. Routledge.
Sheff, E. (2013). The polyamorists next door: Inside multiple-partner relationships and families. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield (Kindle Edition).
Sheff, E., & Hammers, C. (2011). The privilege of perversities: Race, class and education among polyamorists and kinksters. Psychology and Sexuality, 2(3), 198–223. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2010.537674
Simula, B. L. (2019a). Pleasure, power, and pain: A review of the literature on the experiences of BDSM participants. Sociology Compass, 13(3), e12668. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12668
Simula, B. L. (2019b). A “different economy of bodies and pleasures”?: Differentiating and evaluating sex and sexual BDSM experiences. Journal of Homosexuality, 66(2), 209–237
Sisson, K. (2007). The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 10–34). Prometheus Books.
Sprott, R. A., & Benoit Hadcock, B. (2018). Bisexuality, pansexuality, queer identity, and kink identity. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 33(1–2), 214–232. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2017.1347616
Sprott, R., & Randall, A. (2017). Health disparities among kinky sex practitioners. Current Sexual Health Reports, 9(3), 104–108. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930-017-0113-6
Sprott, R. A., Vivid, J., Vilkin, E., Swallow, L., Lev, E. M., Orejudos, J., & Schnittman, D. (2020). A queer boundary: How sex and BDSM interact for people who identify as kinky. Sexualities. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460720944594.
Stein, D., & Schachter, D. (2009). Ask the man who owns him: The real lives of gay Masters and slaves. New York City, NY: Perfectbound Press.
Thomas, J. N. (2020). BDSM as trauma play: An autoethnographic investigation. Sexualities, 23, 917–933. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460719861800
Thompson, A. E., Moore, E. A., Haedtke, K., & Karst, A. T. (2020). Assessing implicit associations with consensual non-monogamy among U.S. early emerging adults: An application of the Single-Target Implicit Association Test. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(8), 2813–2828
Vaughan, M. D., Jones, P., Taylor, B. A., & Roush, J. (2019). Healthcare experiences and needs of consensually non-monogamous people: Results from a focus group study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16(1), 42–51
Watts, A. L., Nagel, M. G., Latsman, R. D., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2017). Personality disorder features and paraphilic interests among undergraduates: Differential relations and potential antecedents. Journal of Personality Disorders, 31, 1–27
Weille, K.-L.H. (2002). The psychodynamics of consensual sadomasochistic and dominant submissive sexual games. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 3(2), 131–160
Wosick-Correa, K. (2010). Agreements, rules and agentic fidelity in polyamorous relationships. Psychology & Sexuality, 1(1), 44–61
Wright, S. (2006). Discrimination of SM-identified individuals. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(2–3), 217–231. https://doi.org/10.1300/J082v50n02_10
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were reviewed by the Research Ethics Board of the University of California San Francisco (Study 1) and California State University, East Bay (Study 2).
We obtained informed consent from all individual participants included in Studies 1 and 2.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Vilkin, E., Sprott, R. Consensual Non-Monogamy Among Kink-Identified Adults: Characteristics, Relationship Experiences, and Unique Motivations for Polyamory and Open Relationships. Arch Sex Behav 50, 1521–1536 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02004-w
- Consensual non-monogamy