Things you should know about open relationships

Here we address some of the misconceptions and questions regarding open relationships and explore why they could work for you.

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Want to know more about open relationships? GCN spoke to LGBTQ+ people who have participated in ethical non-monogamy to provide a guide for those interested in exploring the practice.

Every relationship across the globe is different in many ways. People have all kinds of wants and needs and it is not uncommon for relationships to be out of the ordinary.

We are taught from a young age that relationships are strictly monogamous, meaning that you only have one romantic or sexual partner at a time. Some people realise that a traditional monogamous relationship is something unfulfilling for them, which leads them to experiment with another type of relationship: polyamory. Polyamory is when you have more than one romantic or sexual partner, with a very important extra detail, each person consents to the arrangement.

Although people can be content being either monogamous or polyamorous, there are others who like to find the middle ground between the two types of relationships. This middle ground is called having an ‘open relationship’. Although it falls under the same umbrella as polyamory, they have significant differences. People in open relationships often have a strong romantic and sexual relationship with only one partner, yet they are open and comfortable with having occasional and short-term sexual partners. Oftentimes, people call themselves ‘ethically non-monogamous’ when in an open relationship. Polyamory and open relationships are all forms of ethically non-monogamous relationships.

This middle ground allows the two consenting partners to experiment sexually without feeling confined to the same sexual partner for their entire life. Most often than not, the two people in an open relationship have long discussions about their situation before deciding to be sexually open to different partners. The brilliant thing too, is that people in open relationships are often part of the LGBTQ+ community and being in an open relationship lets them be satisfied with their desire to experiment with their sexual orientation. Another reason for trying an open relationship could be to experiment with a kink that your primary partner is uncomfortable with.

I had the pleasure of discussing open relationships with people who have experienced them, and I have learned a lot from their anecdotes. Respecting their privacy, they will remain anonymous.

What is an open relationship to you?
When asked about how they would define an open relationship, many answered with a comment about mutual consent. Each response included letting the other partner know that they are meeting their other sexual partner beforehand. One individual explained their definition as “being able to play with partners outside of your primary relationship while keeping the romantic relationship exclusive to your primary partner.” Others described having a ‘nesting partner’, which is the significant other you share a living space with, and often their nesting partner would be their main romantic lover.

Why did you want an open relationship?
Many individuals reminisced on the time they began considering an open relationship, with one stating, “My partner and I had always talked about being interested in seeing other people from even when we first met.” This same person confirms that the experience of having an open relationship had deepened their partnership in terms of trust, communication and understanding each other’s needs. Some recognised that their first open relationship didn’t work out as well as they expected, with some partners developing stronger feelings than intended or having trouble with jealousy.

Where to find partners?
Many ethically non-monogamous people have shared a handful of apps and websites that have helped them find sexual partners, including OkCupid, FetLife, Feeld and FabSwingers. These websites facilitate various relationship types and kinks so you can talk with like-minded individuals. Although some mentioned apps such as Tinder and Bumble, they said that they often have to explain their relationship status which can be a hassle. One person mentioned that they have met most of their partners through various in-person kink events, more commonly known in the community as Munches.

Tips on staying safe?
Although it may be exciting to try something new romantically and sexually, first priority should always be safety. Many expressed the importance of staying communicative with their main partner, often letting them know who they are with and where they are. Another major thing to remember is to let your new sexual partner know that you are in an open relationship – consent comes from all parties. “Be 100% honest and open with all parties involved, and make sure you and all partners are regularly tested as you all are responsible for everyone’s safety.” As mentioned, one of the most important things is to practice safe sex, get regularly tested and use protection.

What NOT to do in open relationships?
As Hannah Montana once said, everybody makes mistakes, but here some things to avoid when trying an ethically non-monogamous relationship. First, don’t be dishonest. “Do not lie about who you’re seeing and how you are involved with them. Open relationships only work with trust.” Also, never ignore your feelings of jealousy as it will slowly destroy the communication you worked up with your partners.

Your best advice for people trying an open relationship?
Communication is what makes open relationships work and flow smoothly. When deciding to try an ethically non-monogamous relationship, talk, talk, talk with your primary partner. “Talk with your partner in detail about what aspects of an open relationship you find intriguing, why you would like to explore those aspects, and what boundaries (if any) you would want to implement if you were to open your relationship.” And with that being said, the best response I heard was “take it slow, don’t force it.” Feel out what you want in your relationship, don’t go into things you aren’t fully comfortable with and never forget to communicate with your partner, including negative and positive thoughts.

If you are or were ever interested in being in an open relationship, we hope this article answered some of your questions. We thank all of the individuals that answered our questions on ethical non-monogamy, and for opening up about their personal experiences.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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