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On Having Sex with Other People


Why we did it, how we did it, how it’s been

by Anonymous

On Having Sex with Other People | A Practical Wedding

Last Saturday night I picked up a stranger at a bar. There were drinks, a lot of dancing, and a lot of kissing up against a wall. It took courage to do and I’m so happy I did it. I talked with M, my partner, the next day and he was happy too.

M and I have been together since 2007. Since then we’ve lived together in a handful of different states, changed jobs, bought a car, and made all sorts of decisions together. About six months ago we decided to open up our relationship. Or rather, about nine months ago we decided to start talking about opening up our relationship. And last week I finally got a few gin and tonics in me and went to town on a very nice stranger.

Yes, open relationships. I’d like to talk about mine. Why we did it, how we did it, how it’s been.

Why are we even doing this? Why sleep with other people when you’re in a committed relationship? Well, it can be fun and it can be interesting. Also, we found it can really pull you together as a couple because it means you have to really communicate with each other and yourselves about what you most want and need, and what you need to do to make your partner feel safe and secure. For M and I, one reason to open things up is that we identify as opposite genders, but are also attracted to people of the same gender; or rather, to people all along the gender spectrum. But really, the main reason was that we were interested, and interested in talking about it.

How did we approach the conversation? We were lucky in that M and I were basically on the same page, once we started talking about it. We were both very into sexual non-monogamy, very hesitant about emotional/romantic non-monogamy. If one person in the relationship is much more interested in opening up the relationship, I can imagine it would feel very threatening or confusing for the other person. For us, we both felt like it might be fun and interesting to try, and that it wasn’t incredibly important to us either way, so we were both ready to call it off if the other person got uncomfortable.

Emotional Non-Monogamy vs. Physical Non-Monogamy? How does one go about being sexually involved but not “emotionally” involved with other people (without being a total dick to said other people)? Logistically, for us, M has to travel for work, so for the past six months, when he’s away, we are non-monogamous. Being faithful to one another needn’t have anything to do with how many people you sleep with; it has everything to do with honoring spoken and unspoken promises between you. 

How did we decide on what our rules would be? What makes you feel most threatened? The act of your wife receiving sexual pleasure from someone else? Giving it? Confiding in that someone else? Cooking her breakfast? Introducing her to friends? What is the meat of your marriage? What can be changed, and the house will stand? Walking through that discomfort helped us put our fingers on the pulse of what’s most important, what is precious and must be exclusive versus what is uncomfortable but totally possible. Plus, it can teach you how to talk through these most delicate things (which always bring up past hurts and deep fears).

Will someone get hurt? We planned it that way. We were prepared for things not to go great at every turn. As M told a good friend of ours back when we were still just talking about it, “We’ve basically decided that we trust each other enough to go into this situation where someone’s feelings are definitely going to get hurt at some point. So really what we’re agreeing to is that we’ll be really nice to each other when that happens, and we think it’ll be okay.”

What about jealousy? Oh, the world-consuming thing that is jealousy. Your chest is being pressed, you can’t work because you’ve got to track down X and Y on Z social network. The boundaries of your relationship become quicksand and it’s easy to lose your footing: how do you know when you’re being wronged, when you’re renegotiating the right and wrong of your relationship? Things can feel wrong, but they’re growing pains. Or things can feel wrong because they are wrong. It can be helpful to think through the ways in which we’ve all been taught that possessiveness or jealousy is romantic, and thinking about those traditional ideas can help you distance and name your feelings. But you also have to do what makes you feel safe.

Opening Up by Tristan Taormino and The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy helped me tease out some of the different things I was feeling that can all fall under the jealous-umbrella. It helped me push myself beyond just “I feel bad.” Feel bad in what way? About what specifically?  Don’t trust his judgment? Insecurity about my own body? Feeling left out? One of the most valuable things I’ve really committed to is that, even when a feeling is irrational and I’ve already explained to myself that and how it is irrational, it can be very helpful to still acknowledge that feeling and voice it.

No one expects you to be a robot who is only moved by the rational, and your partner loves the messy guts of you. So a good, “Of course I know you’re not going to run off with some hussy you just met, but the fact that you didn’t tell me about it until now makes me feel…” Those books also have some great things about how to comfort a partner, or ask for comfort. Sometimes a good, “I love you, I want you,” can go a long way.

What has it been like for me? Upon liberating myself from monogamy, I turned to the world to realize… I was terrified, of rejection, of explaining that I was semi-on-the-market again, but really, of new things. I tried online dating, I tried to change my rhythm and make time for it, but I just felt myself not caring enough to put myself “out there.” Then, with the help of some true friends, the Hella Gay Dance Party in Oakland, and a great shirt, it happened. The music was good, she was beautiful, and I overcame what felt like a million insecurities (hello time travel back to my past self, very humbling), and I made it happen. Talking with M about it the next day on the phone was nice too, I could tell in the tone of his voice that he was really happy for me, the same way I was happy for him when he’d spent the night with this beautiful bearded musician. I wanted to hear all about it, I wanted to tell him I was proud of him. I was also pretty aroused, and it made me miss him.

What has it been like for my partner? M has had three encounters, two of which were great for him and were fine for me to hear about, the third ended up being with a person who didn’t respect the boundaries of our relationship so well, so that led to some not-so-great feelings and overtime relationship-processing. (See “jealousy,” above.)

Has it been different than what we expected? It is not all that different than our expectations, except that things in the flesh are and feel different than they do in the planning stage. The things were that pushed our buttons turned out to be slightly different than we expected. But in so far as you can know what to expect, we went into this with eyes open.

Why is it working so far? It really has helped us talk through the things that make us feel threatened, how can we communicate that, and how can we each comfort each other and make each other feel loved. There are a lot of things that make me feel insecure, and we have had to do a lot of processing about past perceived wrongs, things that were never talked about before. As two very conflict-averse people, this has been a really great way for us to talk about things we don’t generally like to talk about.

What will we do if one of us wants out? We both have the shut-it-down power. If either of us is feeling queasy, because of the relationship or just because work-stress left one of us at the end of our rope we just need to feel safe, we can just call a shut-it-down. That shut-it-down can be a week or indefinitely. Neither of us has called this yet, but we both know it’s always on the table and would be happy to shut-it-down no questions asked. More broadly, before each of M’s big trips for work, we have a check-in and decide again if we want to do it.

Courtship outside of a relationship is obviously a bit of work. Why did that work feel worth taking on? Ever feel like the long march of time and society’s expectations are running your life for you? We were starting to feel the pinch of procreation and down payments on houses, and this was one of the many ways we felt like we could feel like we were in charge of what our relationship is and what it means. Also M was spending more time traveling for work and this was a way to think through that hardship.

What are some of the risks to our partnership we’ve faced in pursuing an open relationship? What makes it worth it? Having sex with other people can inflame the insecurities and sore spots that already exist in every relationship.  A small slight can suddenly feel like a punch in the gut. It’s risky to change the outlines of what your love means, and what it entitles you to. It’s worth it because it’s incredibly freeing to have power over what your relationship means. Also, it can be worth it if you or your partner is interested in having sex with other people–that desire needn’t be a reflection on you or your relationship. If you can get on the same team figuring it out, you can feel like you’re sailing new uncharted waters together and that’s exciting. And if it’s something your partner wants and you’ve never thought about, it’s worth talking through (no matter what you decide) because, don’t you want to understand that desire enough to not feel threatened by it?

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  • http://www.sophiaspockets.wordpress.com/ AutumnE

    THANK YOU! Writer and publisher alike, this is a truly radical thing to see on a wedding site! Hooray for APW!

  • Class of 1980

    Most discussions about open relationships are about the emotional implications, which is important. But I’m always left curious about how people view the physical implications.

    I’d be interested to know how you as a couple approached the risks of sexually-transmitted diseases in making the decision to open your relationship.

    Do tell. ;)

    • Anonymous

      I’m the anonymous in the FFM poly relationship above. Can’t speak for the original poster, but health and safety are a huge concern for me and one of the reasons it took me a long time to act on our open relationship. With our girlfriend, we limited the scope of our activities until we got screened for STIs. We have a closed relationship now (albeit with 3 instead of 2) so I’m not sure what we will do if any of us want to start sleeping with other people down the line.

      • Class of 1980

        I understand about limited open relationships and that your situation has less risk.

        I wonder about other open relationships … the OP said they had sex with a stranger, so there would have been no testing. But even with testing, there’s a lot to think about.

        Standard STD testing does not include herpes, and there is no test for HPV in men.

        This isn’t even getting into the various accuracy level of different tests, or that condoms are only partial protection. (HPV often lives on men’s testicles or even under fingernails, so a condom is only partial protection.) Plus a person who has recently been infected with an STD may test negative because there hasn’t been enough time for antibodies to develop.

        I’m wondering how many couples really do the research. I’m even more curious about those who truly understand the risks. How does that conversation go?

        • Anon

          I work in sexual and reproductive health and I answer questions about sex, sexuality and sexual health on a daily basis on a sex ed website, just as a way of explaining my “credentials.”

          It’s true that a condom only partially covers certain area and can’t 100-percent prevent the transmission of STDs, but they are highly effective. Some strains of HPV (the ones that can cause genital warts) and herpes can be transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact. But, HPV cannot live on hands or under fingernails. And while there are lots of different strains of HPV the ones that can cause cancers can be prevented by practicing safer sex and using a barrier method such as a condom or dental dam. And lots of HPV strains can be cleared by the body. Herpes can be painful and unpleasant, no doubt, but it is also a manageable STD and lots of people usually have the herpes simplex virus 1 (the kind that causes cold sores and occasionally genital warts) and never transmit it and both strains of herpes can be managed with medication.

          Even with HIV condoms are 98-percent effective at preventing the transmission of the virus. And condoms and dental dams are great at preventing the transmission of bacterial STDs.

          With proper safer sex methods used (condoms, dental dams, making sure to be tested on quarterly basis) sex with multiple partners can be really pretty safe. I think lots of people do understand these risks, and if couples are able to communicate about emotional intimacy and physical intimacy outside of their core relationship I would imagine they are also having great and in depth conversations about safer sex as well.

          • Class of 1980

            Yeah, I actually know all that. (except I have no idea why one site said that about HPV under fingernails!) But yeah, I’ve done the research.

            It’s just the chance of a cancer-causing HPV being caught outside a condom that scares me. Also, although herpes isn’t a big deal, it does increase your risk of contracting HPV and HIV.

            There is no doubt that my age affects my feelings. The older you get, the more likely you are to have an STD, just because it’s a numbers game. I’ve lived long enough to know a LOT of people my age and older who have them. None of these people were particularly promiscuous.

            Even my own sister, who didn’t have a high number of partners had to have a total hysterectomy because of cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV. I also have a sister via my mom’s second marriage who survived late-stage cervical cancer.

            So, it’s really hard to me to feel reassured.

          • Class of 1980

            Typo: “hard FOR me”

        • Anon

          As someone in a similar relationship setup, I have to say that we have done a lot of research and talking about the implications of our decisions (such as STDs and pregnancy). We have established a set of rules that make us feel we are mitigating the risks as much as possible, and accept that some risk comes along with our decision to have multiple partners. For ourselves, we understand the cost/benefit analysis and have made our decision with that knowledge.

          I sometimes think of it as a similar decision to riding and driving in cars. I know that the chances of getting in a car wreck in my lifetime are pretty high, but I’m still willing to accept that level of risk to drive and ride in vehicles while mitigating the risk as much as possible by wearing a seatbelt, having airbags, driving defensively, etc.

          I totally understand if other people do not believe the risks are worth the reward as it were.

  • Megan

    It’s so great having more of these stories come out in the open. (Pun intended.) The longer I’m living open as being polyamorous, the more I meet with acceptance and others doing the same thing. It may be that I live in a liberal Northeastern city, but it feels so gosh-darn normal at this point introducing one of my boyfriends to coworkers or friends.

    • Anonymous

      Really?! I would like to hear more about this. I’m in a very happy albeit very closeted open relationship, and I am TERRIFIED of my family or coworkers finding out. How did you navigate being open about being polyamorous?

      • Megan

        Ok, part of this is I live in Boston, where we just had a poly speed dating event with over 100 people, many of whom I know personally are out too. So maybe some of the community’s bravery rubs off on me.

        I also work at a liberal-leaning non-profit where people are pretty open-minded and we do a fair share of hang-out time over drinks. And my friends are mostly on that side of the spectrum too. I imagine it’s a lot like how I’d out myself as bi or gay. People know my husband, so you can just drop into conversation something like, “My boyfriend and I are seeing that movie next weekend too,” and see how they react. Some people are a bit shocked and have questions (Mostly it’s how can *I* do that?) for some they don’t bat an eye.

        I told my mom very straight-forwardly over the phone and asked if she had any questions. She had a few, and while she doesn’t enthusiastically inquire about my boyfriends, it feels good not having to lie when I saw a good play with a boyfriend that weekend that I want to share. That said, I haven’t brought a boyfriend home for the holidays. (Yet.)

        A few friends were a bit judgmental, but other friends pushed back on their snide comments in private. Now that people have hung out with my boyfriends at gatherings and have seen my husband and my relationship continue to thrive, we don’t really have folks questioning our choice anymore.

        Best of luck!

  • Seren

    I’m so happy someone is writing about this! And it sounds like the poster’s relationship and rules are very similar to ours. We were open before we got married, and continue to be, and it’s much more about the physical fun with someone else (safer sex always, condoms a must). If we start having feelings for the third person, we have to break off that relationship, because our marriage is more important. It’s been fun, and makes us communicate much more.

  • Fiona

    This is an amazing discussion to have on a wedding website. A long time ago, my partner and I talked about having an open relationship (conclusion: doesn’t work for us at all), but this makes me want to reopen the discussion about jealousy and insecurities and what that means for us (because I’m sure they’ve changed). Great post!

    • Jennie

      I agree. So good to read and think about. My husband and I talked about how we felt about having and open relationship before we got married. We both felt like it wouldn’t work for us. A major reason for that is that both of our parents are divorced due to infidelity and even though having a true open (honest) relationship wouldn’t be infidelity, I think it hits too close to home for both of us. I love hearing how it works for others though and being conscious about our jealousies and insecurities is important.

    • Jessica

      I was just thinking that! It’s not something I foresee my husband ever asking for nor something I’m interested in exploring, but reading about how others have handled it and made it work is so interesting and great!

  • e

    Just wanted to say that I’m married and in an open relationship and while it’s not perfect, I’m very happy and it works for us.

    • Anon

      Same here! High-five! :)

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for covering this topic! My husband and I have had a theoretically open relationship for a couple years, but neither of us acted on it – I didn’t feel ready, and he wasn’t that interested. But then earlier this year, a mutual friend expressed interest in starting a physical relationship with both of us, and we decided to go for it (we’re all cisgender, my husband identifies as straight, I identify as bi or maybe pansexual, and our girlfriend is mostly straight with some fortunate exceptions).

    It’s been such an interesting experience. We had a really intense “define the relationship” talk right at the beginning, where we learned that my husband wanted an emotional relationship while we ladies wanted something more physical. As the last three months have gone by, though, the friendship/emotional partnership aspect has become more important for all of us. Finally exploring my sexuality with another woman has been everything I hoped for, but I’ve been surprised at the many other benefits of having a second romantic relationship after being with the same person since age 19. There’s too much to go into here; maybe I’ll submit a guest post in a few more months. :)

    “Being faithful to one another needn’t have anything to do with how many people you sleep with; it has everything to do with honoring spoken and unspoken promises between you.” I think this is a really important point, and one that I’ll have to try to convey to my parents if/when I come out to them.

    Lastly, I recommend The Ethical Slut to everyone, not just people in a poly or open relationship. I read it years ago and it really helped me think about jealousy and how I relate to friends and lovers.

    • Shy

      I’m really interested in your perspective. For the past few years I’ve been wondering if I’m more bi than I ever thought (which was not very). My partner is theoretically open to a polyamorous relationship with another woman, but we both feel that an emotional/relationship component would be as important as a sexual one. The thought of sleeping with a stranger does not turn me on in the least. Both of us have jokingly mentioned to a few of our friends that a polyamorous relationship would be interesting to try. Other than that there’s been no progress on it. Although, even typing this to the internet is freaking me out because it might become real. I’m still very curious!

      Anyways, I guess what I’m wondering is how you started your relationship? And what sort of ground rules are there, if any? Are there long term prospects, and how do you imagine them manifesting? These might be too in depth for a three-month-old relationship (I probably would only jokingly ask my close friends these questions at three months), but if you feel comfortable answering I’d be interested to hear what you have to say.

      • Anonymous

        Hey, Shy. It’s probably good to be cautious about this – it can be great, but there is a lot of risk. Definitely read The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, and everything else you can get your hands on, and keep talking to your partner.

        We have some ground rules to manage physical, emotional, and political risks: We only do something if all parties enthusiastically consent. We can flirt with other people, but save sexy physical contact for the three of us. We check with each other before coming out to a new person or group. We try to save new experiences for all three of us together, although we are all pretty cool with spending time together in any combination. My husband and I don’t do sexy things with our girlfriend in our bedroom (we use a spare room). We practiced safer sex until we all got tested. Husband and girlfriend don’t do anything that could get her pregnant.

        Communication is really important for us. There are four relationships at play (three couples and one triad) so a lot of things to keep track of. We try to talk TO each other, rather than ABOUT each other, and we all have the responsibility to bring up our concerns before they get big. We were planning to do a weekly check-in to see how everyone is feeling, what we’re feeling insecure about, what we want to try, but it’s only happened a few times. I’d like to get better at that.

        I don’t know about long term prospects. I originally thought it would be fairly short, but things are going well and it’s theoretically possible this could last years. We didn’t enter the relationship thinking about forever, and I suspect we want different things out of life in the long run (for example – she wants kids; husband and I don’t). But I’ve changed so much over the course of the relationship with my husband that I expect to change a lot during my relationship with her, so who knows.

        I could share more, but I don’t want to take up the whole comment thread. ***APW moderators – is there any way you could connect me and Shy without us posting our contact info?***

  • Amy March

    I’m curious about the interplay between marriage vows and an open relationship. Do couples interested in open relationships avoid the “foresaking all others” language to begin with? Even if both parties agree later to be open, is there a sense of loss at having made vows and not living them out? Particularly in light of the recent discussions of “the marriage” being a separate entity beyond just the couple, I wonder how a decision to change what marriage means midstream works.

    • Anonymous

      My husband and I wrote our own vows and both promised to support each other, but not to forsake all others. We didn’t have an open relationship then, but I think neither of us saw sexual or emotional exclusivity as a core part of our relationship.

    • ruth

      Open relationships have always been an option my husband and I are willing to consider, even though we have not done so yet. We used the traditional wedding vows (catholic and jewish in our interfaith case) and interestingly enough, neither had that line about “forsaking all others.” It was merely “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness or in health, till death do us part.” A powereful promise, which interestingly enough works for nonmonogamous relationships as much as monogamous ones.

      • Meg Keene

        Yeah. It’s actually not a vow I’m real life familiar with! Curious when and where it’s used.

        • Stella

          Maybe it’s British? The C of E service has this bit in it….

          • penelope

            Our Jewish vows had a line about “you are consecrated to me according to the laws of Moses and of Israel.” Not sure if it is the same thing but it has a similar feeling to it.

        • Annie

          “Forsaking all others” is in the declaration of consent in the Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal). That’s the part at the beginning right after the “speak now or forever hold your peace.”

          The full text reads: Will you have this man/woman to be your husband/wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

          A few minutes later, the couple exchanges the for better/for worse vows.

        • Amy March

          It’s in the declaration of intention in the United Methodist Church.

    • TeaforTwo

      The language in our traditional marriage ceremony was when the priest asked us if we would “foresaking all others, be faithful” to one another.

      I love that part of the ceremony because it’s about so much more than sex. The idea that I committed to “foresake all others” for my partner applies waaaaaay more in our marriage as a reminder that our primary loyalty is to one another rather than work/family of origin/ourselves etc.

      That said. A party to an open relationship who is playing by the agreed-upon rules is still being faithful to their spouse. And part of the promise that each partner has “shut it down” power is the promise that – if necessary – you’re willing to foresake all others.

      • Class of 1980

        That’s another thing I wonder. What is it like for the third-party to be cut off because one spouse got too uncomfortable?

        They’d have to have a thick skin to be willing to be dismissed at some point.

        • H

          That’s the stickiest part to me too. It’s one thing to work this out with your partner, but then you introduce additional people into the relationship and it turns out, they’re not just bodies, they come with hearts and minds. Some of us can separate sex from feelings, many of us cant. The OP said that they struggle with “How does one go about being sexually involved but not “emotionally” involved with other people (without being a total dick to said other people)?” but I’d really be interested in how they avoid the whole “be a total dick to other people” part, especially if these are strangers they’re meeting and not people they’re having extensive conversations about the situation with beforehand.

          • Amy March

            are their 2 “Class of 1980″‘s posting?

          • Class of 1980

            No. Why do you ask?

          • Amy March

            Must’ve been a disqus issue, fixed now.

          • Amy March

            Eh, I think if you’re up for sex with a stranger you meet in a bar, you’re assuming the risks entailed with sexing with a stranger- that person could be married, could just want sex, could want an emotional involvement, could have gotten out of prison that day. If you feel like you wouldn’t want to be cast aside at the whim of another partner, don’t go having sex with people you don’t know.

          • K.

            I’m assuming that their extramarital encounters are generally one night stands and they are upfront about the fact that there is no chance for anything other than a one night stand. At least, that’s what I gleaned from the article (which I totally understand why the writer wouldn’t necessarily want to provide more context for us gossip mongers!)

            However, if any of these encounters DID result in something more consistent and ongoing but still with a primary tenant of keeping emotions out yet not being a dick, I would be curious about how that works. I guess you would have to be very, very, VERY clear about the arrangement, but I feel like we’re still not in a place societally that there are tons of men and women who would be totally cool with explicitly being a purely sexual third party to a marriage. Maybe I’m wrong though!

        • SarahG

          Speaking for myself (in a monogamish relationship, getting married in September) I see us promising to be faithful to the vows we make. I don’t see us “forsaking all others” but more a “you come first” kind of thing (even if we were monogamous, the idea of forsaking others sounds really dire to me and a little lonely — support from outside the relationship is needed and welcome!). AND as someone who has been the third to a couple (back when I was totally unpartnered) — yes, it can be hard. I knew going into it what the deal was, and they were very transparent with their communication, but of course it still hurt when it ended. I think being a single third is harder than being in a relationship of your own — it can feel like you are nobody’s priority, which also makes it a a good time to practice being your own #1 priority (oh, life lessons). It was my choice — I knew very clearly that getting into dating them would not end with white picket fences and 2.5 kids, and I was OK with that. It’s not for everybody. But then again — isn’t dating always kind of brutal? When I was just doing “regular” dating, I went on many dates with women who turned out to be just trying to get over a breakup and not really ready, or who dismissed me for some random reason, or who just never wrote back even after we had had a nice coffee together. Other people are HARD. The best we can ask is that they be as clear as possible with the information they have available. I think non-monogamy is great for practicing that, myself.

        • Meg Keene

          Yeah. That’s the tricky part. That’s actually what made a lot of sense to me in this post, since causal encounters leave less room for that. I’ve definitely seen third party people get hurt in these situations. (Not that people don’t get hurt in monogamous relationships all the time.)

          • TeaforTwo

            What I loved about this post is the acknowledgement that someone’s feelings are going to get hurt at some point. No question that it can hurt the third party’s feelings (and/or the feelings of everyone involved). But I think that the best that any of us can hope for in any relationship model is honesty and compassion: not setting out to hurt someone’s feelings, being clear from the start and checking in often, delivering difficult news and setting boundaries gently and respectfully.

        • Alyssa M

          Never been a third party myself, but known a few, and the general consensus among those I’ve spoken with tends to be that the hardest part of dating someone in an open relationship is the emotional boundaries. In order to maintain the emotional fidelity to their marriage most extramarital relationships have to maintain a sort of friends with benefits status… which I imagine if you CAN maintain that it makes it easier when things end…

          ETA: None of my friends have ever been able to successfully maintain the emotional boundaries… but I’m quite sure there are people out there who can

    • jess

      our relationship isn’t open, but we’re open to being open in the future. we didn’t have the “forsaking all others” language, or even any sort of “forever” language in ours. instead we focused on respect and partnership…things that wouldn’t be at odds with the status of our relationship changing, or even dissolving, in the future.

      • EF

        happy to hear this, because that’s what we’re planning, language-wise (and expectations-wise). rad that this is working for other people too.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      I photographed a client that got married while already in an open relationship, and their vows leaned heavily on mutual respect and partnership, but didn’t include anything about sexual fidelity. They were really touching, actually. I think the key is that they set out the guidelines for what that bigger “Marriage” entity was for them, which meant something different for them than other people. I wish I could remember the rest of the vows though, because they were really good. I remember walking away thinking, “That was a really powerful way to weave your open relationship into marriage vows.” So it can be done!

    • Meg Keene

      Any time I’ve heard of an open relationship, the vows were written to reflect their actual values (which I think is important regardless!)

      We actually didn’t say (or think about saying) anything about “forsaking all others” in vows. Not because we had an open relationship, just because those actually aren’t vows I’m super familar with in real life. Where are they from? Catholic? Book of Common Prayer? Google isn’t teling me.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Before our wedding, I spent a couple afternoons at GTU’s Packard library researching the Book of Common Prayer marriage rite. Mostly, I was trying to figure out how the marriage fit in with the Mass. (My parents aren’t liturgists, and the liturgists I knew seemed to think that telling a bride how her own ceremony would work detracted from her spiritual preparations.)

        If I remember the conclusions of my research correctly, the marriage rite of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was a fairly new thing (not just a translation/editing of existing rites, like a lot of the Prayer Book). I’m certain that Cranmer first moved weddings into the church, rather than the church steps like you see in Chaucer. That would mean “forsaking all others” originates there, because there it is:
        http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1549/Marriage_1549.htm

        • Alyssa M

          Even though I’m not Anglican, reading about your in depth research into the BoCP marriage rite is always fascinating… I think it’s great that you put so much effort into really knowing and understand what you were saying and why you were saying it…

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Thanks. That means a lot. It’s hard to explain to people not familiar why it can be so interesting to some of us. (And it really is just some Anglicans. I know some Anglican clergy even who just want to know enough to stay on the right page.) But I’ve been studying this stuff since I was first given a Prayer Book in high school.

    • lady brett

      we were solidly monogamous when we got married (not “by default,” but we had really discussed it and decided that poly was not for us), and used very traditional vows, and i have found them to be just as honest, important and true now that we do not identify as monogamous – because our vows are about us and our relationship, and involving others in that doesn’t change the things we promised to each other. (though we didn’t use “forsaking all others” in ours because it rings untrue to us…and isn’t really something i even knew was in some vows).

  • Anon

    I love this post! I’ve been bored with APW lately as I’ve felt it’s veered off from the “tough” topics, but today reminds me of why I love APW.
    I brought up the idea of an open relationship with my ex boyfriend. I’m not jealous when it comes to the physical or sexual aspects, but only when it comes to emotional intimacy. I was also having pelvic pain issues that prevented me from having intercourse and my boyfriend didn’t want to engage with me sexually otherwise. I wish I had had this framework at the time to discuss such a charged issue. Maybe in my next relationship? Definitely buying the Ethical Slut on amazon today!

  • anonymous

    My husband and I have discussed the possibility of open relationshops, and had some mutual flirtation with someone we met online, but we haven’t gone further with it. I think honestly we’re just really scared; our marriage is the best thing that’s ever happened to either of us, and we don’t want to fuck that up. My husband and I met through a bdsm website, so we’ve never been exactly mainstream, but somehow this seems monumentally different. I’ve always had a curiosity and desire about being with another woman, that I’m interested in exploring, and yet whenever I’ve run a mental risk/benefit analysis on opening up our relationship, the risks just seem too high. But at the same time, I don’t want to live my life out of fear. Oy these things are complicated.

  • grace b

    Just reading this was exhausting. Glad you have a relationship that makes both you and your partner happy. :)

    • Meg Keene

      HA. That’s how I felt editing it. Not in a judgmental way, just in a “I don’t begin to get enough sleep for even thinking about this” way. More power to the people that do, though.

  • jess

    love this post. thank you for sharing. :)

  • ambi

    If I am being totally honest, I have very little interest in sex anymore, period. I sometimes (but rarely) want sex with my husband. I literally never think about sex with other people. Low sex drive may be a problem, I guess, but it is our norm right now. Two very very busy, stressed, working parents with financial strains and a messy house and all that . . . I am just being honest: our current reality is that sex is not at the top of the priority list. I will echo a previous poster’s sentiments that the idea of an open relationship sounds exhausting to me. Not that I am questioning it for you – it is awesome that you two have been brave enough to create the kind of relationship you really want. I’m just really happy my husband hasn’t brought it up with me.

    • Meg Keene

      HA. I seriously think this is a new parent thing. Not low sex drive necessarily, but reading this I was like “I NEED A NAP.” I mean, to be honest, I always need a nap. But my idea of a fancy extra curricular activity right now is like, the movies. Possibly with a nap during the movie.

      • ambi

        YES! A nap, maybe a movie. Honestly, I daydream that my husband will surprise me by booking me a room at a local hotel and tell me to go take the night off, order room service, and binge watch my favorite shows. Now THAT would make me want to have sex with him!

        • Meg Keene

          You guys don’t do that? YOU SHOULD DO THAT. We actually have friends that will take him overnight (like they sleep over at our house), and we go to a hotel together. But once you’re not feeding him all night (or even if you are, that’s how he got sleep trained for good) go to a hotel. GO TO A HOTEL. Go alone. GO. Best money you’ll ever spend.

          • ambi

            I think I probably got this idea by reading about it somewhere here on APW, but nope, we have never done it. For Mother’s Day, my husband said his gift for me was a vacation, on my own or with friends, wherever and whenever I want to go (and he added that if I don’t actually plan it and make it happen, he’s going to plan it for me). BUT! I am still nursing. I hate pumping. Being away from my baby girl overnight sounds stressful. So, not yet . . .

          • Meg Keene

            As a nursing mom, lemmie just say, GO. It doesn’t get easier. Just GO.

            We’re still working up the nerve to do a full weekend away, but a night away? You wake up at 3am and pump and dump and go back to sleep. You’re too ASLEEP to be sad about it.

      • SarahG

        And to be honest… I know a few folks in open relationships and pretty much *everybody* cools off for a while when a new baby comes into the mix (or they’re taking care of an elderly parent, or whatever). There are only 24 hours in a day! A big agreement of ours is that when life gets hectic, our priority is to take care of our marriage and ourselves (and kids, in future) first. If you’re in a functional open relationship, you usually have the ability to dial back on outside fun when needed. A couple I knew had a “month of monogamy” before their wedding just because, ya know (well, you guys KNOW), weddings are stressful. I have never met anybody who’s just in poly go-time, all the time. Ebbs and flows, man :)

        • ambi

          A month of monogamy sounds so much better than holding off on sex before the wedding in order to make the wedding night “special.”

      • Ally

        Only a dog parent and I’m right with you on the naps…

      • lady brett

        actually, that was a lovely part of our brief poly kinda-relationship thing – being able to do fun, low-key date things like that with one person while the other stays at home with the kids. plus, when you get to take more breaks like that, staying home with the kids is also a lot more fun than when you are exhausted and run-down. (clearly talking about a very different type of non-monogamy than the post is about.)

  • vegankitchendiaries

    I don’t think an open relationship is anything to be ashamed of but does Meg know she’s credited with writing this article on the homepage?

  • Mezza

    I love that this article is on this site. Thank you, Anon and APW, for writing and publishing it.

    Over the 10 years that I’ve been with my wife, we’ve each had non-monogamous experiences, both separately and together. It hasn’t happened since we’ve been married, but that’s mostly because the opportunity hasn’t presented itself. The way we talk about it is that no matter where else we go, we’ll always come home to each other.

  • joanna b.n.

    THANKS to APW and the poster for sharing, because this actually helped me see how someone could have a productive relationship and an open relationship, which I have never understood before. It’s not for me/us, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wonder how it works for other people. You know, student of the human experience, and all that. :)

  • Lauren from NH

    If any one has a taste for drama (cough cough) or needs a laugh, check out the facebook comments for this post ;)

    • Alyssa M

      I’m so glad they keep most of that stuff out of the comments on here….

    • Emily

      Sheesh. I am always amused when someone announces they’re “unliking” a page all in a huff. Yeah, take that!

    • Sarah

      I don’t get those people who unliked the page in a huff. I would unfollow or unlike a page if it presented something offensive, but that’s not what this was at all. Now, I did not enjoy this article; it made me extremely uncomfortable (see my comment above)…but that’s where I find the value in sites like this. It made me think. It made me examine what’s important in my marriage and it made me think about how I think marriage should be defined in general. I can say, without a doubt, that I do not “get” open relationships and I would not consider it for my marriage. No way, no how. But reading about someone else’s experience with it was still a valuable exercise.

    • BB

      Wow. I’m so glad that negative judgmental stuff doesn’t show up in this comments section!

      • Not on FaceBook

        Does this mean that you don’t think disapproval of open marriages is acceptable? Or that the FB comments are disrespectful? These are real questions, btw! It seems odd to me that all of the comments are supportive of open marriages and many act as if it is wrong not to approve or that open marriage is better than monogamy. Do most apw commenters share this perspective? Do people who have a different view simply feel uncomfortable commenting, or does apw remove divergent points of view?

        • Julia27

          I think what BB was trying to get at (and please tell me if I’m wrong) is that ze is happy that people are more respectful/kind on this thread than they were on the Facebook page. APW only removes comments that violate their comment policy http://apracticalwedding.com/comment-policy/.

          There have been quite a few people on this thread that have stated that they don’t agree with or can ever imagine themselves in an open relationship ( I would look at Sarah’s comment), but they didn’t attack the author or their values.

          Personally, I have very mixed views on open relationships. When I read this post my reaction was similar to Sarah’s because it challenged the way that I think about my very “traditional” relationship. It made me feel kind of uncomfortable. But hey, if this kind of relationship works for other people, good for them! At the end of the day if they are happy and everyone consents, cheers! But that’s just me.

          I hope that this helps answer some of your questions!

  • nervously anonymous

    yes, thank you for posting this!! we are also getting married soon and have been monogamish (thank you dan savage) for about 6 months. he has had one experience and i haven’t yet, mostly because it just hasn’t come up. it has worked really well for us so far. i think as far as couples who are “open” go, we’re on the conservative end of the spectrum. we see this as something we’ll engage in pretty rarely and it really has to be completely nsa and sexual, not emotional at all (and of course with the full knowledge and understanding of the 3rd party that that is the situation). for me just the fact that the possibility exists, that i could still be “on the market” and exist as a sexual being for/with someone other than my partner makes me feel free and sexy and young in a way that alleviates some fears about marriage being (to use dan savage’s words) “the death of sexual adventure”, even if i don’t take advantage of it. i prefer sex with my partner but not because i “have to.” that’s really what it’s about for me – can we love without possession and make our own rules, allowing each other to experience life to the absolute fullest without restrictions that aren’t, to us, absolutely necessary for the health and sanctity of our partnership over the long term?

    i think i really would like to have a monogamish encounter of my own at some point, but it seems the stars would really have to align for this to happen, so i’m happy to bide my time. it’s unlikely a situation would come up that would be purely sexual and nsa but also feel safe, where i would actually feel attracted to the person, but it would not be someone we know socially. how do other couples deal with this last part – the risk of being “outed”? i wish more couples could be open and out about this because it seems there are a lot of us out there, but i think most people would see such a lifestyle as pretty extreme.

  • Caitlin_DD

    That was fascinating. Thank you to the author, and APW for publishing it.

    • Caitlin_DD

      Also, that’s pretty fantastic photo Maddie!

  • Anonymous

    So, so happy about this post. As a longtime APW reader and someone in a polyamorous relationship, this just MADE MY DAY. My relationship(s) aren’t the same as the author’s – there is emotional non-monogamy as well as physical – but hey, there’s as many different types of relationships as there are people in them, and it just makes me so happy that at least there’s people talking about it. Thank you!

  • Meg

    super excited to see a post like this on APW!

  • Sarah

    Wow, so my reaction to this article was interesting. I’m normally of the mind that, of course the choices my husband and I made for OUR marriage are the best for US, but that how other people choose to be married is also valid and should be valued. I’ve never understood, for example, why the anti- gay marriage folks cared about what other people did. What does someone else’s marriage have to do with yours? But then I read this article and had an interesting reaction, which can be summed up as “Nope. No no no. That is not ok. That’s not MARRIAGE. Why even get married? No, you can’t call that marriage. WE are married. They are in some open relationship that shouldn’t be called marriage, because that’s not what marriage is. Monogamy is like, the whole point!” And it made me feel a little threatened, like my monogamous marriage was somehow being invalidated…

    …SAY WHAT? Sounds like those folks who don’t like gay marriage, doesn’t it? I’ve seriously never understood how someone can feel like their own marriage or their own definition of marriage is at all threatened by someone else’s. But then I guess now I do, cuz I just did it, didn’t I? Whoa. That put me in check.

    So I guess this article did two things for me: 1. put me in check – made me realize that although my feelings are valid (I don’t have to have warm fuzzies about a type of relationship that’s not for me), I need to make sure I don’t express them in a way that infringes on someone else’s rights or invalidates someone else’s choices and I certainly shouldn’t feel like it has anything to do with me or my marriage, because it doesn’t, and 2. made me a little more understanding of the anti- gay marriage folks, so that I can have more productive conversations with them. I still don’t think they’re right but I can at least understand the feelings behind what they’re saying. And feelings are ok. It’s how we deal with them that matters. I’m choosing to take my uncomfortable feelings about open relationships and turn them into a way to have more compassion for other people whose views I don’t understand

    • anon

      Kudos to you for being able to examine your emotional reaction, and not just jumping to judge – wish more people would make this effort when other peoples’ choices bother them

    • Class of 1980

      Although I’d never consider an open relationship, I don’t feel threatened that other people choose it. Maybe that’s the libertarian in me. ;)

      Let’s face it, every couple defines marriage to suit themselves anyway!

      The only time defining marriage your own way is a problem is when it conflicts with stuff like divorce laws. Here in Georgia, if you were in line for alimony, you forfeit it if you had an extramarital affair. Other states don’t even consider that.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, kudos to you for being so emotionally aware and for sharing! Funnily enough, while I am in an open marriage and it seems totally natural to me, I have the exact reaction you described to couples who don’t combine finances. That’s MY gut-reaction trigger, like “What?! How can that be? But the WHOLE POINT is that there’s no yours or mine, only ours!!”

      And I totally see that this may be how other people feel about MY marriage. Or gay marriage. Definitely eye-opening.

      • Sarah

        Funny what triggers it, huh? Gets you thinking about what makes a marriage for you and what’s most important in your marriage. It’s also a good reminder that even people in marriages you think are similar to yours might have a completely different idea about what marriage means to them.

    • lady brett

      many years before i considered marriage, and many more years before i considered polyamory, i was amazed to realize one day that the traditional marriage vows i see most often in no way preclude open relationships or polyamory (the only exception i can think of to date is the version that reads “forsaking all others,” which…is not for me, sexuality aside). i think it’s a beautiful testament to marriage being far more that a set of rules.

  • Sarah

    #whyisthissitedifferentfromallotherweddingsites

    Bravo to APW for embracing conversation around more meaty issues like this, while also simultaneously retaining the ability to squee over pretty dresses.

  • NTB

    I was a little horrified to read the comments on Facebook, so I choose to put them here instead.

    I am in a monogamous marriage with my husband, and the part about this piece that struck me personally was the jealousy bit. JEALOUSY. I’m a jealous person (trying to work on that)…and I have always wondered how people in open relationships managed their jealousy. I related to this specific part. I think it is worth examining.

    I think we’ve all had moments of insecurity with ourselves and in our relationships. An open relationship might not be the healthiest thing for me, but that’s why I live in America: I can grocery shop, break bread, share coffee, share books, discuss issues, and worship my own God with people who are the same and with people who are different from me.

    I appreciate the ideas here. Thank you.

    • allison

      i think someone else mentioned it here, but either the book the ethical slut or opening up had a lot of good things to say about jealousy. i’ve read both and found them wildly informative for my monogamous, non-open relationship. even if open isn’t for you, i highly recommend reading both for some good (and different) info on communication and managing jealousy

      • NTB

        I’m a librarian, and I always love getting book recs. you rock. Thanks!

    • Julia27

      I don’t have any ideas, but I am very similar! Jealously has been a problem for me as well, but I have been able to work on it and reflect during my everyday life (I know sorry not helpful).

      But reading this piece brought up some weird jealously within in me. The section on deciding rules my brain went “WHY IS HE CONFIDING IN HER? WHY IS HE MAKING HER BREAKFAST?” I’m in a very secure and loving relationship and my brain went to a very odd place. So this piece will give me some food for thought for a while. I know this wasn’t full of advice, but I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone!

  • Lisa

    I found myself stuck like it was Sudoku, wait, who of what gender did what to whom of what other gender? Probably a defensive reaction, but at least one that didn’t involve shaming anyone else;).

    • Class of 1980

      That’s hilarious.

  • Vicki Larson

    This is a welcome discussion on a wedding site. Why? Because as the co-author of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” (Seal Press, Sept. 2014; http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Do-Reshaping-Marriage/dp/1580055451) I realize couples need to talk about monogamy, not just when they first become a committed couple but throughout their partnership. We offer various marital models so couples can marry by their definition of success (not just “until death do us part”). One model is an open marriage, and we talk to couples who have done that successfully, and discuss what’s good and bad about it, and provide questions to ask yourself if you’re considering a marriage that’s open or monogamish. The idea is to get people to look at monogamy and make a conscious decision about whether they are choosing it because they want to or because they assume there are no other options. Let’s face it — there aren’t many healthy models of non-monogamy for people to aspire to. Kudos to APW for bringing up this essential discussion. All of us need to have it. And, please join us as we Occupy Marriage. @TheNewIDo

  • cschell

    Thank you for this brave post. I think some people may be uncomfortable with this article because they associate open relationships with affairs. However, for something to be an “affair” there has to be a breach of trust, which doesn’t seem to be happening between this couple. An affair could be different things to different people, such as watching porn or even fantasizing about other people. Affairs could also be strictly emotional, which I think would be even more painful. I am in awe of this couples honesty and communication.

  • Anonymous

    Bravo! My husband and I are also in an open relationship. I think there’s more of us out there than people imagine. The problem is that most monogamish couples are “in the closet” about it (we sure as hell are) since there’s a real risk of alienating your social circle, tarnishing your professional image, and/or grossing out your family. I wish I could share with more people my experiences and thoughts on being in an open relationship.

    I think one of the most counter-intuitive aspects of the open relationship is how it can make you MORE committed to each other. Before we met each other, my husband and I were both really sexual adventurous, in terms of seeking out a great variety of partners and experiences. I joke with him that we’ve each sampled a “statistically significant” portion of the population, and therefore we can feel very confident that we made the right choice in each other. I always knew that monogamy was not for me, and I don’t think I would’ve married a man who insisted on it.

    Now that we’re married, we still both have permission to seek out other lovers (as long as we always do so safely and 100% put each other first). If anything, this makes our relationship more stable. I never have to wonder if I’ll have better chemistry with that cute bartender, and I never have to be afraid he’s going to leave me for a younger, hotter woman. Marriage for us is no longer a choice between “this” or “that”, between being committed to the love of your life vs being able to feel the thrill of hooking up with someone new. Instead, we get the best of both worlds.

    We have a friend who cheated on his wife and left her and his two-year old son because he basically decided that he got married too young and needed to date some more. I know there’s probably many other factors that go into a decision to cheat — maybe the relationship was already rocky, etc. — but still, I wonder how many marriages could be saved, or made significantly more happy, by relaxing the requirement of monogamy.

  • Todd

    not totally believing the description of this relationship, “I was fine with it:” fine usually denotes dishonesty. If emotional sobriety/literacy and integrity are completely intact, then ok I’ll believe parts of it. But as far as healthy and thriving goes – I have some questions..