Billion-Dollar Traditional Industries Are Embracing Nontraditional Relationship Styles

Aja Frost @ajavuu

Source: Subreddit Stats

The Signal: While monogamy remains by far the most common relationship arrangement in the US, consensual non-monogamy (CNM) is slowly becoming more mainstream as 4-5% of American adults (~8-10m people) currently practice CNM in some form. Perhaps more surprising is that 20%+ of surveyed single adults have participated in CNM at some stage in their lives. 

The Big Picture: Alternative lifestyles are becoming mainstream. 

The definition of alternative lifestyles is always evolving in society. New relationship arrangements such as CNM are becoming normalized, as others have before them. For perspective, the same proportion of Americans who practice CNM also identify as LGBT (4.5%).

Not long ago, cohabiting (living with an unmarried partner), was considered an alternative lifestyle. Today, the share of adults aged 18-44 who have ever lived with an unmarried partner not only increased from 54% to 60% since 2002, it has also surpassed the share of adults who have ever been married (50%).

If we agree that co-living and coworking are making their way to the mainstream, then it’s not hard to imagine that co-romancing might be next in line.  

For some, CNM seems closer to being a taboo than an alternative lifestyle. But the same logic applies: Previously taboo topics like menstruation, menopause, fertility, and female sexual pleasure have hit the mainstream, and institutional money has followed. Last year, femtech had its first ~$1B year of VC funding. Industries that cater to those in alternative relationship arrangements may be next.

The Opportunity: A Canadian survey published last year found that the proportion of committed Canadians in open relationships is similar to the US at 4%. However, it uncovered that a far greater proportion (12%), particularly younger adults, described an open relationship as their “ideal relationship type.” This suggests that the proportion of people in the country who practice CNM will grow as it becomes more normalized, providing entrepreneurs an opportunity to step in and serve the growing market.

Search interest related to alternative relationship models also supports this hypothesis, according to Keywords Everywhere. Increases in search terms in the 10-year period from July 2010 to July 2020 are trending upward:

  • “Open relationship”: 224k searches (up 113% from 105k)
  • “Non-monogamy”: 168k (up 126% from 74k)
  • “Polygamy”: 156k (up 191% from 53k)

Communities and Support: Social networks and online communities catering to niche groups are making strides in the new socially distant world. In May, London-based Peanut -- an app that began as a tool for finding new mom friends -- raised $12m. The company recently announced plans to launch a new community focused on another niche: the menopause market. 

The community of people practicing CNM is growing -- there are currently 68k+ subscribers on the r/NonMonogamy subreddit -- and they will need somewhere to connect. 

A community could come in the form of an online forum or app, and could offer support products. Two ideas: a guide on how to set open relationship rules (5.4k searches/month), and stories from couples who successfully practice open marriages (1.3k searches/month). 

But you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, either. This list of 15 apps designed for monogamous couples could be adapted to fit other alternative relationships. 

Traditional Industries: Traditional industries are opening up to previously nontraditional markets.  Earlier this year, for example, we wrote a Signal about opportunities to provide services to growing number of gay and lesbian couples who will be spending on weddings as same-sex marriage is increasingly legalized around the world. 

What other industries will start catering to alternative relationship styles?

One early example will be travel. As alternative relationship models become more normalized with time, traditional milestones like romantic getaways and honeymoons will be adapted to meet changing consumer preferences. There were 30+ retreats, getaways, and conferences aimed at the CNM community planned for 2020.

According to The Future Laboratory, “Tri-romantic Retreats will mean polyamorous groups -- or polycules -- will enjoy trips that help nurture their bonds, as any romantic getaway for couples would.

Honeymoons are a $12B industry in the US, with Americans spending between $4.4k and $9.9k on average on their romantic getaway for 2. There is an opportunity to provide honeymoon-like getaways remodeled to suit alternative relationship styles (“polymoons” are already a thing). 

Other Alternative Lifestyles: The popularity of the CNM lifestyle teaches us that more and more people are starting to embrace alternative lifestyles, and there will be an opportunity to provide products and services to these growing communities. After all, ~10m people currently practicing CNM in the US is not a small market. 

Social media will have a part to play in normalizing nonconventional lifestyles. As UK sex expert Kate Moyle said, “The more we see people doing something, the more familiar it becomes and that shifting perspective gradually alters our idea of the norm.”

Some other nontraditional communities worth another look include: 

  • alternative child rearing (e.g., home schooling, co-parenting, and home births); 
  • those living in unusual communities (e.g., eco-villages, living off the grid, or tiny houses); 
  • traveling subcultures, (e.g., lifestyle travelers and house-trucking);
  • and nudism and clothing-optional lifestyles.

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