The Mandatory Do’s and Don’ts of Open Relationships
Photo: skynesher (Getty Images)
Open relationships aren’t just a fantasy come true or a free pass to cheat. They’re a lot of work and require ongoing negotiation and sharing hard truths. While the pleasure of polyamory generally outweighs the hassle involved in finding, vetting, and making time for new partners, you should know what you’re getting into before you’re in too deep. Prior to throwing open your bedroom door, sit down with your primary partner (that’s your first open relationship vocabulary lesson right there) and discuss how exactly you’re going to handle inviting play partners into your lives. These do’s and don’ts can help guide the conversation. Good luck, sexual adventurers!
Do: Soul-search before you dive into an open relationship.
It’s time to ask the tough questions – of yourself. Why do you want to try an open relationship? Is this an attempt to make up for something lacking in your primary relationship or will this add to an already stable and satisfying arrangement? What do you think you will get out of it? Who do you have your eye on? What will you do if someone falls in love? Can you handle rejection? How will you know when it’s time to stop? Are you willing to risk your primary relationship for this? Get out that crusty old journal and start exploring your psyche.
Don’t: Fool yourself into thinking that polyamory is no big deal.
Do: Research polyamory and open relationships before you jump in.
Open relationships are hella complicated. Take advantage of the wealth of information out there on polyamory to learn about relationship structures, rules, and troubleshooting tips. A few good places to start: the books The Ethical Slut and Opening Up as well as the documentary Monogamish and the TV show Wanderlust.
Don’t: Make it up as you go along.
Do: Decide if you want to meet your primary’s play partners (and vice-versa).
Everyone’s preference is unique on this one. Some people would rather not know who is banging their primary; a name is enough. Others not only want to meet the play partner, they want to spend time with them. You’ll have to hash this out with both your primary and your play partners to figure out if and when an introduction would be beneficial.
Don’t: Stage an "accidental" run-in between primary and play partners.
Do: Be upfront about your open relationship status with potential partners.
So, you meet someone at a bar and flirting is underway. They're only in town for one night and casual sex is definitely a possibility. Since it’s just going to be this one time (or so you tell yourself), do you have to disclose that you’re in an open relationship? Abso-fucking-lutely yes. Any potential sexual partner deserves to know upfront what kind of an arrangement you have (and, depending on your arrangement, your primary deserves to know you're taking on a new play partner, even if it's only for a one-night stand). Honesty is always the best policy in open relationships. If a potential partner isn't comfortable with your open relationship status, respect that and don't try to convert them.
Don’t: Wait to disclose that you're in an open relationship until after things turn sexual or feelings have developed.
Do: Make a schedule and stick to it.
It’s hard to make time for one sexual relationship, much less multiple ones. Organization is key if you’re going to keep everyone happy. One way open relationship enthusiasts avoid scheduling conflicts is to designate a certain day for a certain person. Even then, though, there are bound to be times when life interferes – someone has to work late, got her period, or needs to spend quality time with their primary or kids. Try to be understanding.
Don’t: Take it personally if play partners have to cancel.
Do: Discuss which sex acts are OK with each partner.
When most people think of open relationships, they immediately imagine ménage à trois. While that might be part of the arrangement for some, not everyone in a polyamorous relationship wants a threesome. Some primary partners are down with you doing whatever with whomever while others might want you to save certain sex acts (like anal or S&M) just for them. Pregnancy and STD risks should also be considered when defining the limits of your freakiness.
Don’t: Pressure anyone to participate if they don’t want to.
Do: Use protection. Every time.
When you open up your relationship, you’re potentially exposing yourself to higher STD and pregnancy risks. Even if you’ve all been tested and are clean, accidents happen and people might be too ashamed to update you on their status. Take care of your own health first by insisting on protection with play partners every time. To be extra safe, use protection with your primary partner, too.
Don’t: Think it’ll be OK to go unprotected “just this once.”
Do: Communicate often when you’re apart from your partners via email, text, or phone.
More partners means less time for everyone. That’s just math. But don’t let distance keep you from reaching out and touching your partners even when you’re apart. Make good use of that smartphone in your pocket and send regular love notes, sexts, or emojis to your partners so they know you’re thinking (nastily) of them. Just don't do so on social media.
Don’t: Follow or comment on your play partners' social media accounts.
Do: Be honest about your feelings.
Emotions will come up in open relationships. There’s no way around it. Those emotions might be mostly positive, but jealousy and anger are usually in the mix at some point. The only way out is through, so make sure you’re checking in with your primary and your play partners about how they’re feeling – and not just about the sex.
Don’t: Stew silently or let resentments build up.
Do: Discuss whether or not you’re going to be public with your arrangement.
Just because your partners are gung-ho about polyamory in the bedroom doesn’t mean they want the whole world to know about your relationship. There is still a strong stigma in much of the U.S. around open relationships, and people have been known to lose their jobs or custody of their kids when outed. There are not laws in place that protect polyamorous people (and, in fact, some states have laws against adultery, whether or not it’s consensual), so tread carefully when taking your arrangement public.
Don’t: Assume everyone will be discreet...or accepting.