More Sex with More People: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Open Relationships.

Via Krystal Baugher
on Sep 9, 2010
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Bonus, via The Onion: “Open Relationship Gives Couple Freedom To Emotionally Drain Other People From Time To Time

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In what way does being intimate with multiple people interfere with our personal daily functioning?

Update: How More Sex with More People was Good, then Bad, then Ugly.

Throughout working on my Master’s in Women and Gender Studies I’ve had conflicting issues with the basis of monogamy, specifically marriage and all of its patriarchal glory.

If even close to 50% of marriages end in divorce, why are people still getting married?

If one of the root causes of divorce is infidelity, why aren’t we working on concepts outside of monogamy?

Lately I’ve been exploring ideas of what it would be like to have an open relationship. Mainly I’ve been debating the good and bad of polyamory—poly meaning more than one; amory meaning love—together, meaning to love more than one at a time.

Because I live mostly in a theoretical world in which polyamory and open relationships work on paper, I thought I’d go through what makes me hesitant and excited about opening up my existent four-year (and counting) relationship and what it would be like to give this outside-the-norm style of love a try.

More Sex

The Good—Ahhh…More Sex.

Whether with one or more partners sex can benefit people in multiple ways, including stress relief, cardiovascular health, better sleep, and perhaps even enlightenment, just to name a few. Also, sexual exploration can help with a lack of stagnation; as most people who have been in long-term relationships can attest, we all go through peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows.

The Bad—Time.

Having sex all the time really puts a damper on doing much of anything else. If I chose to open my relationship and I met new, interesting people who I wanted to spend time with, well, I’d have to own a pretty badass planner to fit everyone in. And right now, it seems difficult to have enough time for just one other person.

The Ugly—Slutopia and STD’s.

The majority of our population doesn’t really find non-monogamy appropriate no matter its label (open relationship, polyamory, etc.) these people generally seem to think that those who are open are promiscuous amoral sluts with STDs. But, there is a right way to be a proper ethical slut, (and even a guide book for those who want more info); part of it includes always using protection and not screwing every person you meet. People who are out doing everyone without protection have low self-esteem and a death wish.

The other problem I could encounter is that some monogamous people may look at me as a threat—a loose cannon who could blow up their existing relationship by trying to get closer to one of them. I am not a sex tornado, I respect other people’s limits and choices, so I find this concept quite frustrating as no one person is attracted to every other person in existence.

We all have our standards. I for one am not generally attracted to the mountain dew drinker, the renaissance fair attendee, the anime watcher, or the peace-pipe smoking hippie but those types seem to be the majority of poly-people who have “come out;” that, or they’re old. I guess if I do it I’ll need to start looking harder.

More People

The Good—More Fulfilling Relationships Overall.

Sometimes when people are in relationships they will put a barrier around said relationship so as to not cross over the intimacy line with other people. This can cause an inability to make more fulfilling longer lasting friendships (or more-than friendships) due to the fact that one person in a monogamous relationship doesn’t want to hurt the other by connecting closely to someone else.

The most exciting part of the polyamory concept to me is the ability to have no fear when meeting new people. I can go for it completely. I can get as deep with another as I want without feeling I am crossing over into the “danger zone.” Partly it’s because I’m already with someone, and thus in a way, I always have backup in case of rejection and I always have a support system if something (or someone) becomes dysfunctional.

The Bad—Jealousy.

I’ve always been the sort of narcissistic egomaniac that finds it okay for me to do something, but completely ridiculous and rude if someone else does the same thing, for example I can flirt, but my boyfriend better not. And here in lies the major problem. However, I am working on getting past that—as jealousy is not an innate reaction to a lover loving someone else but is more of a socially developed dilemma. I was reading an autobiography of the beat poet Diane De Prima and in it she told the story of her girlfriend coming home late, crying profusely, and confessing her “sin” of cheating. De Prima was confused. She said she didn’t understand why she should be upset that someone she loved shared an intimate moment with someone else; it in no way hurt her. Something about that story really clicked with me. In what way does being intimate with multiple people interfere with our personal daily functioning?

The Ugly—Loneliness.

How can a person be alone in a non-monogamous polyamorous open relationship? Well, probably pretty easily if one’s partner goes on a date with someone else and leaves said person to fend for herself for the night. The book The Ethical Slut lists plenty of things one can do to “treat” oneself.

It also suggests we make lists such as 10 ways to be Kind to Yourself and 15 Reasons He’s Lucky/15 Reasons You’re Lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I love making lists, but am I really going to remember to read my list when the dreaded loneliness starts looming? Or am I going to reach for a bottle of wine and pour my soul into an existential crisis where I question every decision I’ve ever made? And that is where it gets ugly. No one wants to go there. That is where egotistical narcissism would come in handy, or at least some high self-esteem and a bit more confidence than the average bear.

More Rules

The Good—Better Communication.

The best suited people for any arrangement of non-monogamy are Type A’s, who love planning and scheduling and being on top of it all. Because that’s what it takes. It seems like participating in this type of relationship would improve communication skills because people would first need to set boundaries and discuss what they want in relationships in general and specifically. And they would need to be completely honest at all times in regards to everyone’s boundaries.

If, for example, I didn’t want other people in my bed, there better never be anyone else in my bed. If he wanted me to give 24 hour warning I better give a day’s warning. Monogamous couples don’t have as many rules, basically, don’t touch anyone else in any way (mentally, spiritually, physically etc.) and it will be fine. I’m not sure if that is the best way to have a relationship for every person on the planet.

The Bad— Breaking the Rules.

Obviously humans are not perfect and though we all try to abide by our own ethical standards sometimes we slip. When this happens it can be emotionally painful both for the person admitting they broke the rules and for the person hearing the news. We are adults and we need to be responsible for our own actions and reactions. Some situations can be forgiven and some just may not be, that is all dependent on individual standards. I personally, do not know how forgiving I can be but at the same time I don’t want to find out.

The Ugly— Breaking Up.

An observation I’ve noticed about married couples is that they often don’t talk to each other, about anything. There is a security in knowing that the other one is always going to come home, but there is also a monotonousness to it that seems utterly depressing.  What appears to be missing over time, when the bore begins to occur, is a deeper understanding of oneself through the connection with another human being—a cut off, an invisibility, a routine with no positivity.

The worst thing that could happen if we decided to try out this whole polyamory thing is that we’d break up and move on—but it seems like a worthy risk. One that could lead to a more fulfilling life overall. Or one that could at least give me a good story to write about when I’m 50 and reflecting on my youthful ideology, my idealism, my inability to conform to the conventional relationship standards of our day.

I will never know unless I try and I still cannot decide…

[Update: Read How More Sex with More People was Good, then Bad, then Ugly.]



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About Krystal Baugher

Krystal Baugher lives in Denver. She earned her MA in Writing and Publishing and her MA in Women and Gender Studies from DePaul University/Chicago. She is the creator of Mile High Mating, a website dedicated to helping people "do it" in Denver and beyond. You can find her on facebook and twitter (as long as you aren’t a stalker).

Comments

114 Responses to “More Sex with More People: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Open Relationships.”

  1. Living it says:

    I have been married for 13 yrs and open for 1.5 of them. To say that it hasn’t been challenging would be a lie. That said, communication has not only been critical, it has been nurtured and much improved through this. Jealousy has been present on both sides which has allowed us to explore what’s really there for us.

    Being open is not forced. We are not out there trying to be with anyone we meet. It’s simply an ebb and flow. As middle agers, we have realized that people change. The person you married isn’t often the person you find in mid life or beyond. We have goals and dreams for ourselves that are independent of ‘us’. For us this is an extension of supporting and loving each other in our journey of life. Experiencing life. Living life. Yes there are rules but are rules are not restrictive to living life.

    Will it always be this way? Maybe/maybe not. I just know that we are committed to each other in all that comes our way. And that’s enough for me.

  2. EyeLean5280 says:

    "I for one am not generally attracted to the mountain dew drinker, the renaissance fair attendee, the anime watcher, or the peace-pipe smoking hippie but those types seem to be the majority of poly-people who have “come out;” that, or they’re old."

    Yikes.

    Actually, this entire article reeks of callow. But I suppose it is unfair to expect mature heads on kids' shoulders. (Or a designer's head on sociologist's shoulders, for that matter – that first illustration! Oy!)

    My dear, I heartily urge you to do what you so clearly are longing to do. Go out and try polyamory. I think you'll discover being in the community is a lot different from studying the community. Whether it ends up being for you is of course not nearly as important as the growth and wisdom you will attain, assuming you are inclined towards growth and wisdom in the first place.

  3. vernon nielsen says:

    Were all monogamous an polyamorous, it just depends on how you perceive your role in it. An unfulfilling relationship makes you think or fantasize about others , there it is , in your mind you just went poly. if it doesnt manifest in physicality , good for you , you avoid the ridiculous slut tag.
    Humans are in the dark ages sexually because we use it for stupid emotional junk food. On the occasion that we tap into the sacral chakra and explore that we just turn it into hyped emotional junk food. Sex isnt a bandage, or an internal gap filler, poly amory isnt bad and monogamy isnt bad. if peopl had a clue about the sacredness of sex , its possible that alone may stave off wars and general stupidity,,,well maybe a war or two, i mean we are geniuses at being raving morons.
    In ancient egypt , priestesses were referred to as prostitutes, or maybe modern man depicts them as such for taking money to indoctrinate people into sexual alchemy, the act of using sex to evoke deeper energies that ultimately bring one to deeper realizations of the self.
    But hey lets keep it light and just be monkeys debating some silly idea on sex and purpose in shallow materialistic ways that dont do much but challenge a person to honestly look at where they are mistaken in things as they struggle to not point fingers, realizing not, that they see it within themselves first.
    The good
    picking up other peoples subconscious information, expanding awareness.
    The bad
    The struggle to find self definition and its anxieties.
    the ugly
    thinking life has to be in a box
    not getting to the point of kundalini

    Its arguable that these little animals should even be having sex, its not like it does more than create larger internal gaps in most. i think people that tend to have a wholeness of love inside gravitate towards monogamy because they are whole and dont need more than one. A person that has to have more generally has large gaps in their inner experience of love.

  4. Lori Barron says:

    I can tell you from my point of view Open relationships are the BEST relationships. Ive had both types of long term relationships and for my there is no comparison. Open relationships can be structured in ways that both parties needs can be fulfilled. Open relationships are much more work and much more fulfilling but radical honesty is KEY. Is there problems to overcome? Of course there is but I know many people in open relationships and they is more LOVE, compassion, and honesty! The people I know are deeply connected loving, passionate people! They seem to be more genuinely happy then traditional long term relationships. As for being a slut…. well if you care that much about what other people think this lifestyle is probably not for you! I could care less about the labels a conservative society wants to put on women! Own your sexuality it is a beautiful, expressive side of you fear not the judgement of others! As for the "UGLY" , well your not looking in the right places! LOL contact me I'll tell you where the "HOT", open young couples are!!! Good luck! xoxo

  5. JFill says:

    This is well written, and if you'd like to see and experience polyamorous people may I suggest the Meetup.com group Polyamoury Under 40 (PU40).

    I came into being Poly with my most recent relationship, only having other experience in college with an "open relationship". The biggest difference here in Chicago is that finding a large community of Poly people has allowed me to hold a mirror to my own projections of good and bad possibilities. The group has a few focuses, and I use it mainly to meet like minded people in casual fun settings, but the discussion groups and other more formative events are showing to be constructing a vocabulary between us that is gradually being tuned in to by the public eye. With more and more discussion of non-monogamy in broadcasted media (as well as cool local blogs) holds us to better understand each other and our own desires to have multiple partners, and better articulate the tactics of communication.

  6. Pedro Diaz says:

    I think that sex can really get the stress out of yourself

  7. Joe says:

    Jealously come from attachment. Attachments is not love. Many of the theories mentioned here are not polyamorous, but many attached partners. I enjoyed your article very much none the less.

  8. Mark Lee says:

    For the beat part of two years I explored poly, dated poly women, preached relationship anarchy, as enlightenment. Then four months ago I met someone I love. Now monogamy, sacrifice, commitment to this one person seems like enlightenment. In my experience many in the poly community have poor boundaries, some because they have low self esteem. I’ve experienced people being manipulated at poly sex parties, mostly women. It’s no different to swinging, it’s about men having their cake and eating it. I’ve experienced women in tears time and time again as their beloved has sex with someone else. Sure that’s not always the case, some people cope, but mostly what I’ve witnessed is pretty messy.

  9. n.eddy says:

    I wish everyone would stop saying open relationships/polyamory is all about sex, sex, sex. The amount of sex being had is no greater than that of a single person. And if you are exploring an open relationship just for sex with different people, than you may be going into it for the wrong reasons, unless that's your objective than I wish you the best. But for me and many others, I'm not actively seeking out a separate connection, apart from my husband, but I like knowing if one presents itself naturally, I have nothing holding me back from exploring it fully.

  10. Darci says:

    I appreciate your look on this. I personally loved the article, and I do agree with the reply that this applies to all casual sex weather its monogamous or not.

    But to add to the discussion, I believe STI's are a risk in both casual sex and non casual sex. Not all open relationships are limited to one committed parter, and everyone else casual. I have some friends who chose to have two committed partners at once, which is great. I ended up getting an STI from a monogamous committed partner, so regardless of what kind of relationship it is, sex comes with a responsibility — and STI's are definitely important to consider when opening up a relationship. Would I want to give something to my partner? Would I want my partner to give something to me? How would we combat this – would we get check ups after every sexual encounter? If I got an STI and my partner did not, how would this effect our relationship? Etc etc.

    My take is always…if its meant to be it will work out…but sometimes the actions we choose play a huge role in weather something is meant to work out or not.

  11. Joyce says:

    I applaud your desire to look at your confidence issues as a way to deal with jealously. However, I hope you are being kind to yourself during your process. I'm not sure if you're in a relationship and if it is a monogamous one or poly but my point is, being in a relationship where your jealously is constantly triggered in harsh and hurtful ways isn't necessarily the most nurturing and kind environment to be in while working on your insecurity/confidence/jealously issues. Imagine working on those issues with a partner or an environment where your insecurity is treated with kindness and you are supported through your process. To me, I would find it very difficult to work on an insecurity/jealously issue in a poly relationship. I think it would be very intense and difficult and working on personal growth issues is difficult enough. No?

  12. Joyce says:

    I find this odd advice for someone who is a relationship professional.

    I think people who leave a relationship because it isn't fulfilling are missing out on an incredible opportunity to become fully self-actualized. Leaving a relationship, in my opinion, is a cop out. When someone believes another person or another relationship or another experience is "going to make them happy" they inevitably find themselves having to face the same issues that were problematic in the initial relationship. So, what they didn't deal with or face in the initial relationship, they will ultimately have to deal with in a subsequent one (or not).

    However, I will add that not every relationship has the capability to help you become self-actualized because in order to do so both people need to be mature enough and capable enough to deal with their personal wounds and the issues that get in the way of cultivating deep intimacy and trust.

    So, rather than suggesting people explore experiences outside their relationship, wouldn't it be far more personally gratifying, challenging and fulfilling if that person pushed themselves to become fully self-actualized within their current relationship? Imagine teaching someone how to overcome all the barriers that have prevented them from connecting deeply and intimately in their current relationship. Imagine how rewarding it would be to help someone overcome all of their personal challenges within the relationship instead of encouraging them to leave the relationship? What a sense of accomplishment they would have going through hell and back with one person and achieving all they dreamed of.

    People are so quick to leave a relationship because it is un-fulfilling and in doing so, they miss out on an incredible opportunity.

  13. Elia says:

    My husband of 15 yrs and I decided to try polyamory about 3 yrs ago. In the beginning, we hoped it would revive a stale sex life (I think we tried everything else first), and it truly did! The first year was terribly difficult, and many times we thought our marriage wouldn’t survive the transition. But we did, and we are a stronger couple now for it. We communicate better, we share everything with each other (we didn’t know we were both keeping secret fantasies, we each thought the other wouldn’t understand). We do have moments of jealousy (hello, we are human!), but now we understand that any jealousy we experience comes from our own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy or feeling as though our own needs aren’t being met, and we discuss them and fix it. We are still completely in love with each other! Probably more now, even though we thought we couldn’t love more than we did before. Polyamory isn’t right for everyone, and not all will understand it. That’s ok. We are not asking for anyone’s permission to love however we choose to.

  14. William says:

    I’ll start with typical American insight if their is a open relationship it’s only in that ones mind almost never makes it to top of conversation there is the problem. People rather lie than be honest to keep things on a more level plane. The is what I had to discover 7 years married that was going on and that explanation was given to me. I went to countless psychiatric evaluations because I kept thinking it was me,it was how I was going about other issues going on at this time too. It took a big toll on me and her emotionally and physically, and made my kind words turn very bitter and sometimes brutal which I am not proud of, but way she was jealous and hateful to just anyother femal even one standing I front of me in line at a gas station. Then there is God, it clearly says 1 man 1 wife that’s it not 2 3 or half the country cuz your that promiscous in the bible your called adulteress. Trying to wit your will with blind wisodom, will only cause you to fall. Rebellious kids just because… You will learn but it’ll be to late. You might lose the one that is your 1 in a million. Sex is believed to be root of evil it definetly plays a big part in my mind

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