There is a somewhat outdated stereotype that claims that women are more interested in an exclusive relationship then men are. According to this stereotype women want to be in committed relationships but men want to play the field.
I'm not an expert on the subject but my guess would be that that dynamic was once more true that it is today. I imagine that that paradigm is changing and that many women today want to sow their wild oats before they settle down just as much as men do.
I suspect that if it ever was true that women were more interested in an exclusive relationship, it was more about pressure from society to be a "good girl" than it was about any real desire to limit their dating choices.
In our society men have always been given a green light to enter into relationships with as many women as they wanted. Women, on the other hand, have been discouraged from casually dating, and becoming intimate with, many men.
Men viewed that type of behavior in themselves as some sort of badge of honor but a woman was judged very harshly if she wanted to act the same way. And, to a lesser degree, that double standard is still around today.
So, whether it is right or wrong, fair or not, the reality is that it does exist. There is also the very real possibility that someone can get hurt. That is why no matter what type of relationship you are currently looking for; committed or casual, you should make sure your partner is looking for and expecting the same thing.
Having "the talk" early in the relationship is the best way to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Many people don't feel comfortable talking about exclusivity too early in the relationship.
They may think it makes them sound clingy or desperate if they let the other person know that they want to settle down and they aren't interested in a causal dating relationship.
But, it's important to make sure that you are both looking for the same thing before you get too attached or spend too much time. Why form a bond with someone who doesn't want the same thing you do?
If you go about it in the right way, it doesn't have to be awkward at all. For example, while you are in the early "getting to know you stage" it's not inappropriate to mention that you are getting ready to settle down.
If the person you are dating isn't looking for that same thing at this time of their life, they will probably bolt away as quickly as they can. But that isn't a bad thing. They don't want what you want anyway, why let things linger? They weren't the right person for you so what is the big deal?
If they are looking for the same thing as you are, they will be happy to hear that you are both on the same page.
So, my advice is to be honest early on. The worse that will happen is that you won't waste time getting to know someone who is looking for something different than you are. Whether or not you are looking for an exclusive relationship it is not a bad thing to talk about it early on.