Q. Dear Dr. Sex, does an open relationship add spice in the bedroom, or is it a recipe for disaster?
A. What if I said it can be both? But you have to first define the terms and establish boundaries you can both handle.
An open relationship occurs when two or more people (I can’t forget my polyamorous comrades) consensually choose to have additional erotic relationships with others in addition to their main relationship. Maybe you decide it’s alright to have an outside email romance, filled with erotic chat and sexy stories to spice things up. Some people give the OK for Skype Sex or webcam play as a way to offer visual variety to their partners. Others allow cuddle parties, anonymous sex, intimate or emotional relationships, plutonic partners, one-night stands, non-penetrative BDSM, and, well, the list goes on… What’s most important though, is that everybody involved is on the same page.
Think you can handle an open relationship? Try this little exercise. Close your eyes. Imagine your partner getting physical or experiencing closeness with another person. Think about them conversing intimately, seductively undressing, massaging, performing oral, and then having intercourse. Get real specific and detailed when imagining this.
Did this visualization get your heart beating? Did you get excited? Or did you feel jealous, anxious, angry, and insecure? If you felt anything except for the first two emotions, you might want to hold off cruising Craigslist looking for that third wheel. If you felt sexually excited, maybe you have what it takes to handle sharing something more than an Ipod with your partner.
Variety can be the spice of life, and I like to think of those who engage in open relationships as erotic wine tasters. Sometimes they crave a red wine, other times a white, and maybe a little champagne every now and then. Then why does it seem like most of us favor a shot or a beer instead of a tray of exotic wines?
For most people, an open relationship isn’t a possibility. Feelings like love, possessiveness, and fear fire up the emotions and create internal conflict. Others experience guilt, remorse, or shame when they imagine engaging in behaviors that society doesn’t approve, because they’ve been taught by friends, family, religion, and culture that monogamous, closed partner relationships are normal (even though biologically we’re pre-disposed to multiple partners and non-monogamy).
Research suggests that between two and six percent of people engage in open relationships regularly. If you’re considering joining this small percentage, use the baby steps model and take things slow. Read up on open relationships (I suggest “The Ethical Slut” for starters) and talk ‘til you’re blue in the face about limits, boundaries, and your honest feelings with your partner. Negotiate everything you can think of; from kissing, cuddling, intercourse, to exchanging facebook profiles or keeping in contact afterwards with new, invited partners. Start off with something you decide as low anxiety; like a date, a make-out session, or massage (no sex) with the invited partner(s), and then talk afterwards about the experience. You’re better off going at a snails pace than rushing into a showering Bukkake gangbang that might be the source of anger and resentment in the future.
I won’t lie to you, an open relationship takes trust, amazing communication, a strong sense of self, and the ability to manage and contain emotions and feelings to really have a chance at success. Some can make it work; most can’t (if it were easy, everyone would be doing it). Myself, I may be able to handle a glass of vino here and there, but personally, I prefer a beer and a chilled shot of Patron.