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Exploring open relationships

What if you’re not the monogamous type, but don’t want to cheat on your significant other? You do have options. With honest communication and a respectful boundary-setting, it’s possible for you and your partner to have some cake and eat it too.

Vocabulary words to get you started

“Primary” is your regular sexual partner. “Secondary” – the so-called temporary replacement, secondary sexual partners.

“Cheating” describes overtly lying about being monogamous or letting your partner assume that you’re monogamous when, in fact, you aren’t. Cheating isn’t the same as an “open relationship,” “polyamory,” or “polyfidelity” as these terms involve honesty and agreement.

Setting the boundaries

Agreements people make in open relationships are as varied as the people who make them. Specific boundaries will depend on you and your partner’s desires and anxieties. It’s important to take time to honestly discuss, honor, and negotiate solutions that comfort anxieties and meet desires. Never agree to anything you don’t want or pressure another into agreement – these false agreements will only cause difficulty in the long run. Remember to keep the lines of communication open as boundaries are likely to change over time.

What kinds of agreements do people make?

The first agreement many people make is that their primary relationship comes first. This means issues between primaries take precedence over secondary relationships.

Primaries may set boundaries that limit the intensity of their relationships with secondaries, such as no PVI (penis/vaginal intercourse) or one-time sex only.

Primaries may have agreements about location, such as no sex with others in our house or only on vacation.

Since it’s easy to use sex with secondaries to avoid issues between primaries, some partners agree to close their relationship should issues arise until these issues are worked through.

Safer sex agreements

There’s always agreements made about safer sex. When opening up your relationship with others, you can’t rely on the safety that monogamy affords within an STI/STD free couple. Whether you agree to consistent condom use, pre-sex STI testing, or engaging only in low-risk sexual activities, you and your partner will have to determine what safer sex tactics, or combination of tactics, work best for you.

A word about jealousy

Jealousy is of huge significance in some relationships and isn’t an issue in others. Jealousy is the main reason couples decide against opening their relationship or decide to wait. Jealous feelings aren’t evidence of “real” love nor are these feelings evidence of personal moral failure. Jealous feelings may indicate a need to validate yourself or remind yourself of your own worth and strengths.