Dr. Alan, a psychologist specializing in the way people interact with ‘progress’ in general and technology in particular, describes himself as educated beyond his competence and opinionated beyond his education. Besides being an MVP commenter on EMandLO.com, he is currently working on a book about how increased healthy life expectancy will influence family structure.
Should you open up your relationship? Truthfully, probably not. Simply fantasizing or role playing about opening up (with maybe permission to make out with a stranger in a dark corner occasionally) is a lot safer, easier, and less risky to your current relationship. The kind of solid, loving couple that can survive non-monogamy is rarer than a white rhino! But if you decide to chance it for the potential erotic thrills and/or deeper love that can come from a successful open relationship, then play it as safely as you can by following these rules:
1. DO understand what an open relationship is (and is not)
An open relationship is one form of ethical non-monogamy in which you both agree the other can have additional sexual partners. It is an agreement before starting, not an excuse when found out. There is no right way to do it—you and only you define the rules. And you’d better agree on those rules at the start or your effort is guaranteed to fail.
2. DON’T open up a relationship without a clear understanding of why you want to
Maybe you want to fall in love with someone else (or already have fallen in love) but still love your partner; or the idea of sex with new people is incredibly exciting; or you’d like to try things you need others to do with you (a threeway, a partner of a different sexual orientation than your current partner, etc); or you have needs that you can’t meet in your current, otherwise-wonderful relationship (like an interest in BDSM that your partner will never share). All of the above reasons are legit; the one reason that’s not is because you want fix a broken relationship — don’t even think about it!
3. DO “RTFM”
Before you do anything else, listen to the techies and Read the Manual. There’s no reason to make the same mistake others have. There are more and more good books about open relationships available, but the non-monogamy bible remains Tristan Taomino’s Opening Up.
4. DON’T jump right in
Take baby steps. There is simply no way to know how you’ll feel when you see (or hear about) your partner getting up close and personal with another person’s genitals. So start slowly — with fantasy, then making out in a corner, a little fondling, some nakedness, and only then full-on intimacy, whether your partner is part of the experience or not. Each step of the way, talk — and I mean really talk — with your partner about what you did and how you felt. If it bothers you, stop!
5. DO be prepared to be surprised
All sorts of unexpected emotions — jealousy of course, but others as well — may surface. There are also practical issues: men sometimes cajole their partners into open relationships only to find their partners are the belles of the ball while they sit alone at home Saturday night. Your new partners are people, not flesh toys, with the needs, wants, and expectations that may not be yours. And hanging around with naked people of both sexes has led people to reconsider their sexual orientations. Don’t let yourself be blindsided.
6. DON’T go looking for love in all the wrong places
Fish where the fish are. Finding people for your relationship is actually easier than you might think.
If what you’re looking for is an erotic charge, particularly as a couple, consider the swinger websites. They’re full of people who are just like you, and a little common-sense screening will eliminate the undesireables. Just remember that it is a form of online dating, so take the usual precautions. The two largest sites are SwingLifestyle.com and Kasidie.com.
For a deeper relationship, particularly if you’re looking for a lover for only one of you, try the usual online dating sites: OKCupid is widely praised if you tailor your profile to meet the kinds of non-monogamous people you want. Fair warning: people fall in love this way…but that’s what you wanted, right?
If you’re looking for kink, that’s what the Internet is for. Try FetLife.com both to meet people and to find get-togethers.
There’s also the traditional method of getting your flirt on; Em was approached in just that way. The worst that can happen, as she will tell you, is a polite “No thank you.”
7. DO practice safer sex
Having been in a monogamous relationship for a while, you may have gotten lazy about protecting yourself against STIs and unintended pregnancies. Make sure you’re both being smart about hooking up with others: have the hard conversations about sexual histories beforehand, have birth control and barrier protection ready to go, and use condoms and oral sex dams correctly every time.
8. DON’T have a “no backsies” policy
You should both reserve the right to change your minds. Sometimes relationships open and then close. It’s not a test; do only what you feel good about.