Polyamory seems more common among gay people than straight people. What’s going on?

Are open relationships more common among gay people? Or does it just seem that way?

Forms of non-monogamy, like open relationships and polyamory, have become hot topics in dating culture, stirring passionate responses from those in favor of these non-traditional relationship styles and those staunchly against them.

LGBTQ+ people seem to have embraced non-monogamy more than straight people. According to a survey on relationships published online in 2018, 2% of heterosexual participants reported being in open relationships, as opposed to 32% of gay participants, 5% of lesbian participants and 22% of bisexual participants.

LGBTQ+ relationship experts, however, argue there's more to the story and caution against generalizing these figures to all gay people. Even though gay couples may statistically be more likely than straight couples to be non-monogamous, not every gay couple is − and assuming so does a disservice to the diversity of viewpoints and relationships styles within the LGBTQ+ community.

Are open relationships more common among gay people? Or is that just a stereotype? It's complicated.
Are open relationships more common among gay people? Or is that just a stereotype? It's complicated.

Why are gay people less likely to be monogamous?

Experts cite a few reasons why LGBTQ+ people might be more drawn to non-monogamy.

Up until very recently, same-sex marriage remained illegal in the United States. Not only that, but for the vast majority of U.S. history, most Americans thought they'd never see the day same-sex marriage would ever become legal nor supported by large swaths of the population.

Because of this, many gay people likely became accustomed to defining and organizing relationships on their own terms, rather than by societal norms. This led more gay people to challenge monogamy, as well as other standards traditionally associated with long-term relationships.

"There is a stereotype that queer couples are, at very least, open to being open," says Leanne Yau, a polyamory educator who has been non-monogamous for eight years. "I think that, if you are queer, that means that you are already rejecting the societal norm of being heterosexual. And, if that is the case, then people who are queer are much more likely to think about in what other ways they might live their lives that are unconventional, or which might suit them better."

More: Why are we so obsessed with polyamory?

Discrimination and ostracization have also likely affected the way LGBTQ+ people approach relationships. After all, Yau says, one of the benefits of an open relationship is having more partners in your life to lean on for support.

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The truth about gay couples and non-monogamy

Still, there is no universal relationship preference among LGTBQ+ people, and many choose monogamous relationships.

Philip Lewis, a therapist specializing in gay men's mental health, says stereotypes around the ways gay people date and fall in love do LGBTQ+ people no favors. One stereotype gay men in particular face, he says, is that their sex and romantic lives must involve either promiscuity or non-monogamy.

That isn't the case, Lewis says − but a young gay person who grows up thinking it is may believe those are the only ways to have relationships as a gay person.

Lewis adds stereotyping all gay men as non-monogamous also does a disservice to monogamous gay couples. For instance, he says, if a monogamous gay couple experiences difficulty in their relationship, they may be more likely than a straight couple to think opening up their relationship to other partners will solve their problems.

But if a relationship is unhealthy at its core, making it non-monogamous won't do much to fix it.

Instead, set boundaries and advocate for your needs within your relationships − and don't blindly follow how to live based on societal rules or stereotypes.

"I don't think that just because you're queer, you necessarily need to abandon everything else," Yau says. "Question and explore your identity and your choices and things like that, but the point is having freedom of choice. The point is not to do all the radical things all the time, if that isn't what you actually want. What's radical is the choice."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gay people, monogamy and the truth about this LGBTQ+ stereotype