Hi everyone! Welcome to the A to Z of Sex. I’m Dr Lori Beth and I am your host. We are working our way through the erotic alphabet one letter at a time. Just a reminder this podcast deals with adult content, so if you don’t have total privacy, you might want to put on your headphones. Today the letter is O and O is for Open Relationships. There are many types of open relationship. In general, a relationship is considered open when it contains more than two people (e.g. people are not being monogamous).
In this podcast, I will take you through the different types of open relationships, speak about some of the positives about open relationships, some of the issues that arise from open relationships, and finally point you in the direction of additional information.
I speak from long professional experience as I have worked with many people considering open relationships, in open relationships and ending open relationships over the years. I also speak from personal experience as I am presently in a polyamorous marriage and have been polyamorous in some previous relationships.
Please note that I am talk about consensual open relationships in this show – that is where everyone knows that people may have more than one partner. Non-consensual open relationships are called cheating. I will only address cheating in relation to consensual open relationships. The subject of cheating in general is for a whole other show.
Let’s start with open relationships that are open only for other sex partners (rather than for other love relationships). Some couples make the agreement that each of them (or sometimes only one of them) can have other sexual partners. This type of relationship comes in many forms.
Most common is the couple who spend considerable time away from each other and agree that ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’. This is a don’t ask, don’t situation. Usually the couple makes an agreement about types of partners, safe sex, type of sex, contact after the return from a trip. For example, I remember one couple who agreed that oral sex was acceptable but fucking was not. They agreed that there would be no further contact once the trip was over, no email addresses or phone numbers exchanged and that all oral sex would be with condoms or dental dams. Some couples agree sexual intercourse
Positives for this type of arrangement: If both partners are truly comfortable with it, it is a no muss no fuss arrangement.
Potential issues: If either partner really wants to know the details of the other partner’s sexual experiences, experiences insecurity, or experiences distrust of their partner. Note that I didn’t mention jealousy as a potential issues. This is because often people feel jealousy but are able to deal with this emotion effectively. Jealousy in open relationships is often related to a lack of time (feeling their partner is spending more sexual time with others than themselves) or sometimes if one partner is not having additional experiences, then there can be jealousy about the fun the partner is having without them.
The second type of open relationship still involves people in the relationship having separate experiences but in this situation, one or both tell each other about the experience. Sometimes they simply tell each other that they are going out on a date. Other times, they share details of the experience for social enjoyment and still other times they share intimate details as part of their own sexual relationship.
I am reminded of a couple who used to vet each other’s potential dates. They would look at profiles online, google the people and sometimes even have a brief conversation. They did this even though they were not looking at on going relationships with other people but just at short term sexual relationships.
I worked with Jane and Sandy in the 90’s. They used sex with other people as a way to spice up their own sexual relationship. Though they did not invite anyone to join them as a couple, they would bring their outside sexual experiences into the bedroom in long detailed stories during foreplay and sometimes during fucking as well.
Couples who are in this type of open arrangement usually have agreements about safe sex, partner choice (e.g. don’t choose anyone they both know, or from work), and contact with the sexual partner after the sexual experience.
Positives of this type of open relationship: Adds excitement to the original sexual relationship by providing new energy, new ideas and sometimes directly through the sharing of sexual details, can help partners to get sexual needs met that they cannot get met in their primary relationship.
Potential issues are the same as in the last type of open relationship.
Swinging (including threesomes): Swinging is usually defined as when people in a committed relationship engage in sexual relationships with others for fun. Some swinging is private where couple invite another person to join them for a threesome or a couple invites another couple to join them. Other swinging is public and takes place at private parties or clubs.
Couples choose to swing for a whole host of reasons. Some couples have one or both partners who are bisexual and swinging allows them to enjoy sexual relationships with other genders. Some couples simply want to spice up their sexual relationships. Other couples are happier when non-monogamous. Some people who have health issues that interfere with full sexual expression enjoy watching their partners having sex with another person. Some people enjoy exhibitionism and like to have sex in front of other people.
Positives for swinging include bringing new energy into the relationship, spicing up the sexual relationship, allowing partners a wider sexual expression and exploration. Potential issues include issues around jealousy – particularly comparing self to the new partner, one partner ‘going along’ with swinging because of the other partner and not really enjoying the experience or feeling pressured, sexually transmitted diseases, lack of clarity about agreements in relation to swinging (contacting new partners separately or after the experience).
Attending a swing club can be a fairly easy way to see if you want to open your relationship as often it is OK to simply watch others and you can see how you react to being in the presence of others, dealing with others approaching you with offers to play and dealing with others admiring you and/or your partner.
Then there is polyamory. Polyamory is when people have more than one sexual and loving relationships with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. In practice, polyamory takes many forms. Some people have hierarchical relationships where there is a primary relationship that is prioritised. For example, a married couple may also have relationships with others but they prioritise their marital relationship. Sometimes polyamorous folks have a mix of casual and serious relationships. Sometimes everyone gets to know all other partners. Other times they choose not to know each other. There are relationships that look more polygamous in nature where there is one ‘husband’ and a number of ‘wives’ (or the reverse).
Why does someone choose to be in a polyamorous relationship?
There are lots of reasons. Many people believe that one person cannot meet all of your needs and feel that they are non-monogamous by nature. I am bisexual and find that polyamory allows me to be fully myself sexually as I can have relationships with all genders.
Sometimes a couple discover that they have very different sexual drives or sexual interests and polyamory can make it possible for them to continue a relationship and get their differing needs met in other relationships. Sometimes it is not for the sexual interests but rather for the emotional or intellectual interests or pursuits. James and Jeremy came in to see me when they were considering opening up their relationship. James had a chronic illness and was on medication that robbed him of his libido. Viagra helped him to gain an erection but he still found that he had little interest most of the time. Jeremy had always been highly sexed and was finding their dwindling sex life devastating. They loved each other and had been together for 15 years and had no desire to end their relationship. James wanted Jeremy to be satisfied and brought up opening their relationship. Jeremy was worried that James would become jealous and things would become worse. They spent time in coaching working out a set of rules about other relationships. They took things very slowly. When problems arose, they worked through the issues together. Three years after I last saw them in coaching, they were still going strong. They had discovered that James enjoyed watching Jeremy with other people and had a few men that they regularly invited in to their relationship.
People get involved in open relationships because they wish a challenge, or because they want more freedom to experiment. Sometimes they form open relationships because they live in different parts of the world and others because having multiple spouses makes finances and child care easier. Larry and Ros lived 6000 miles apart. Both had successful careers and both had children from previous relationships that they cared for part time so neither were in a position to easily move. They chose to have an open relationship as they were limited to seeing each other four to six times per year. Ros felt she was naturally non-monogamous and had little difficulty adjusting. Larry found it hard at first as he felt very possessive of Ros. It took some time for them to work through the issues around Larry’s possessiveness but they were able to do this by agreeing that Ros would not date men.
Polyfidelity is when a group of people enter a relationship together and agree to only being sexually involved with people in the group. In some cases, there are clear sleeping schedules to decide who has sex with whom when and in others there are not.
Poly monogamy: This is when one partner is polyamorous and the other monogamous. This is often a very difficult situation. Sometimes this situation arises because a monogamous person falls in love with someone who is polyamorous. Other times a relationship starts out monogamous and one person realises they are truly polyamorous. Sometimes a monogamous person will approach a polyamorous relationship believing that they can change the person to be monogamous. (He won’t need those other women once he realises I am The One.) It is possible to make poly monogamous relationships work but it takes a lot of work to do so.
If you wish to increase the possibility that an open relationship will be successful, this is my advice:
- Consider your own reasons for desiring an open relationship – Know Thyself. Make sure that you have full understanding of your needs and desires.
- If you are single, have a clear idea as to the rules for you – what are you looking for. Are you content to stay single or are you looking for at least one relationship that will lead to living together or marriage.
- If you are in a couple are opening your relationship, create clear rules. Are you considering having someone join you either temporarily or permanently? Do you want the right to tell your partner ‘no’ when it comes to any potential date, playmate or partner? Is your relationship going to be prioritised? How will conflicts over time be decided? What are your rules about safe sex? Are relationships casual only? What are your rules about electronic contact (email, text, social media?).
- Figure out how you will deal with triggers and with jealousy
- If you are in a couple, work on any relationship issues before opening up if possible
- Get some coaching to establish your open relationship blueprint – structure, rules, tool kit before opening up or soon after opening up.
- Make sure you have established some social support amongst people who will not freak out because you have chosen non-monogamy. The last thing you will want to hear if you are having a rough time in your relationship is someone telling you that the only reason this is happening is because you are a freak and non-monogamous.
- Setting boundaries (physical, time and emotional) is very important in managing multiple relationships. Make sure that you are good at doing this and if you are not, learn to be better.
- In order to manage multiple relationships, you must be a great communicator and be a good negotiator. If these are not your strong points, take some time to learn to be better and practice a lot.
Greta wrote in and asked if it is possible to cheat on someone if you are in a polyamorous relationship.
Yes Greta it is very possible. The bottom line for all ethical non-monogamous relationships is that all partners are aware that there are multiple relationships. If one partner hides a sexual and/or romantic relationship from the other partner(s), that is cheating. The dishonesty involved in cheating is the most damaging factor to the relationship. When trust is broken in a relationship, it is very difficult to repair. The amount of damage is usually related to how much the trust was broken. For example, a one night stand is usually less damaging than a 6 month long relationship.
Jerry wrote in and asked for some tips to manage jealousy. You are less likely to feel jealous if you are feeling secure in yourself so one tip is to do things to make sure you are secure in yourself and secure in the relationship. You are also less likely to have major jealousy if you are involved in your own pursuits. If you know you tend to feel jealous when your partner goes out on a date, make sure that you have something to do that evening – a project, a date yourself, or getting together with friends. Sometimes jealousy results because your partner tries something new with someone else. That one may take a bit more to work through. Try to look at how much fun it can be when your partner is introducing you to something new rather than focusing on doing new things together all the time.
I will be writing more on polyamory in the coming weeks so head over to https://drloribethbisbey.com and have a read of my blog and sign up for the newsletter. Email me for a reference list on my recommended books on open relationships.
Thanks for joining me this week for the A to Z of Sex Write in with your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and visit both websites http://www.atozofsex.com and https://drloribethbisbey.com to learn about alternative sexual choices, types of sexual relationships and to learn to sizzle and create that ideal lasting intimate relationship. For a free 30 minute session with me, head over to http://www.atozofsex.com and click on the button that says ‘book now’. Please join me next week when the letter will be P and P is for Porn.