Testosterone, Sex and the Polyamorous Woman

Cristen Conger

Poly women appear to have higher testosterone and sex drive. (Steve Wisbauer/Getty Images)

If you've listened to the Stuff Mom Never Told You episode on polyamory (recorded LIVE from SXSW), you know what polyamory looks like on the outside. Sometimes referred to as "committed nonmonogamy," polyamorous setups revolve around multiple partners engaging in emotionally committed relationships. In a monogamy-centered society, that idea can come across as oxymoronic and downright impossible. But when you read accounts of people in poly relationships, it's clear that plenty of folks can make it work just fine.

But what about polyamorous women in particular? Evolutionary psychology and biology generally portrays females as single-partner seeking creatures, looking for little more than someone -- emphasis on one -- to stick around for at least nine months to a few years and provide for offspring. If that's true, how on earth can these poly women cope with multiple partnering and more sexually open setups? (Note: I'm being intentionally reductionist regarding the female sexual appetite to draw a contrast. Please bear with.)

The difference between polyamorous women and both single and monoamorous (having a one-and-only) women may have to do more with testosterone than philosophy. A 2006 study* measuring testosterone, sexual desire and sociosexual orientation ("self-reported willingness to engage in sexual activity outside of committed, emotional contexts") drew some compelling conclusions about poly women.

  1. Compared to single, partnered and poly-seeking women, those women currently in polyamorous relationships had the highest testosterone levels.
  2. Polyamorous women had higher sexual desire than any other relationship type -- including women "oriented toward multiple partners."
  3. Polyamorous women also exhibit greater sociosexual orientation than partnered women, which makes perfect poly sense.

Although poly men also had the highest testosterone levels, they didn't display more amplified sexual desire or openness. Why the high testosterone? Study authors explain: "...polyamorous individuals might exhibit higher (testosterone) than single individuals because their lifestyle is explicitly oriented toward the possibility and likelihood of new partners in a way that being single is not."

So does that testosterone somehow impact poly women's sexual desire and openness moreso than it does poly men's? Sorry for the cliffhanger, but more research is needed to suss out this trait/state quandary. In the meantime, you can read the research for yourself here.

*Thank you to our brilliant listener Diana Fleischman for passing along this study.

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