Opening Up – Open Relationships

Quite a few gay couples find their relationship going from monogamous to open as the years roll by, sleeping with others is then allowed. Not everyone is suited to this arrangement, however. Opening up your relationship to outside partners can lead to variety and adventure, but can also lead to you ending up single, with a bruised heart. How do you keep an open relationship from derailing?

Why open?
Couples who choose to open up their relationship are trying to combine the intimacy and stability of a relationship with the excitement of sexual discovery. However, this is not for beginners. First of all, there are the health risks that inevitably come with having casual sexual partners, especially if a couple has stopped using condoms together. Then there are issues of jealousy, trust and communication. These can all be handled well or badly. Lastly, with too much sexual focus on other people, extra-curricular activities may end up not heating up a couple’s sex life, but instead kill off the sex within the couple altogether. An open relationship is not inherently good or bad. It depends on how you handle it as a couple.

“I have tried to be monogamous in several relationships, but I never succeeded, even though I really loved my partner. I thought this meant that I would never be able to maintain a relationship, until I found a boyfriend who isn’t all that jealous, like me. Thankfully, I have never fallen in love with someone else. Not all of my body is monogamous but my heart is, as it turns out.”
– Edwin

The right time
Some men are more monogamous than others. If you met each other at an orgy, both of you may attach less value to sexual exclusivity than if you are two teenagers in love for the first time. Even so, someone’s ideas about sex within a relationship can be unpredictable. Someone who could fill a football stadium with his ex-lovers, may only want to be monogamous when he’s in a relationship, for reasons romantic and emotional. Those first couple of months, in any case, your hormones should have you too focused on your True Love to even consider screwing around. This is just as well, as you probably need time to bond as a couple before you start thinking about inviting others to bed. Only when there is a solid basis and a lot of trust, does opening up become an option. This may be after six months or after six years or may never happen, as some guys just won’t feel comfortable with an open relationship. If you don’t think you can live with monogamy in the long run, you should indicate that before it becomes an issue. Being sneaky rarely ends well and the guy you love will probably end up feeling hurt and betrayed, which may lead to finding your stuff on the lawn and a door getting slammed in your face. If he is Monogamous and you are Not, you may have to accept the fact that you are incompatible.

Having the conversation
If your sex life with your boyfriend is flagging, you should fix that before you suggest opening up the relationship. Sex with other people may temporarily alleviate the issue, but won’t fix it, making the relationship vulnerable. Be conscious of the reason or reasons you want to sleep with others, so you can verbalize them when you are talking to your boyfriend. Are you looking for extra excitement? More variation? Is it about the hunt? Do you like getting validation from others, making you feel that you are still attractive? Do you have a fetish your partner is unable or unwilling fulfill? Is he just a top or just a bottom while you like to experience both roles once in a while? Is there a large difference in sex drive? If the real reason is that you want to get out of the relationship, stringing along your boyfriend while you start looking for a new one under the pretense of an open relationship, is morally wrong and destructive.

Before you bring up the topic of sleeping around, it is probably good to investigate how your boyfriend feels about the concept. Do you know people who have an open relationship? What is his opinion about that? How jealous is your boyfriend in general? Does he get cranky if you point out a hot guy on the street or tell him that you flirted with someone at work? If so, he is probably not going to be too happy with the idea of sexually sharing you with others. If he is relaxed about flirting, you can introduce the idea of a threesome as a theoretical, erotic fantasy. Fantasize together about what you would want to do if it happened and see if your boyfriend shows enthusiasm for the idea. If he likes the theory he might want to try the reality of it, given time.

Ultimately, the problem is that imagining your boyfriend having sex with others is not romantic, in the traditional sense at least. It may be a turn-on to some people, though. The more you make it clear to your partner that you still find him very attractive, that you love him, and that this is just for fun, the less likely he is to feel insecure about it. Let him know that your wanting to play around with others does not point to a shortcoming on his part. Mind you, this should be the truth. If your suggestion does not go down well the first time, be prepared to drop the topic, for a while or forever, depending on how your boyfriend reacts. Sex with others should be an add-on to the relationship, not a cornerstone of it.

If you are not the one making the suggestion, it can bring up unpleasant emotions, especially if you did not see it coming. You may feel hurt. Aren’t you enough for him? Is he missing something sexually that only another guy can give him? Do you have to compete with untold numbers of other men? Assuming you have a stable, loving relationship with a satisfying sex life, you should not feel upset at the mere mention of an open relationship. If you don’t feel like having one, be honest about it. You can say that you need some time to think about it, but only say that if you’re actually somewhat open to it. Don’t make an empty promise because you are afraid your boyfriend will leave you otherwise. If he does indeed run off purely on the basis of your not wanting an open relationship, there were larger issues at play and the relationship was probably doomed anyway. Though men tend to have less trouble than women when it comes to separating love from sex, this doesn’t mean you have bring that separation into your own life. But if your boyfriend is honest and respectful about wanting to open up the relationship, it is likely true that it is just about sex for him, an adventurous way to explore his biological drive. Should you ultimately agree to try an open relationship, be sure to formulate what the boundaries are.

“An open relationship is not for me. I’m too jealous, I think it’s not very romantic, and it’s way too much energy spent on others and too much of an emotional hassle. I make that clear to any possible partners, and it’s not something I will easily budge from. I’ll make sure my partner isn’t missing anything in bed. That’s not so hard, as I am a fairly randy and creative guy.”
– Andy

Deciding on the rules
Open relationships are very much about respect, honesty and communication, even more so than monogamous ones. Before you start playing around, you need to set clear rules together and both stick to them. Rules should be suggested by the more hesitant or jealous partner and can be amended if there is a bad experience. You should probably agree that either partner has the right to renegotiate at any time. Especially after being open for a while, this may be hard to adjust to, as you were allowed to roam but suddenly feel a tug on your leash. Such is the price of having a relationship however.

If either of you starts fudging the rules, the extracurricular activities can easily spin out of control, leading to your partner only wanting to proceed in a monogamous relationship or single. The agreements can be verbal, or even be written down into a little document to avoid misunderstandings. Here are the main topics to be covered:

Safer sex
Sex with other may be hot and fun, but you don’t want to catch an STD and pass it on. Always stick to safer sex with others, and discuss with each other what this entails. Since chlamydia, syphilis and various other infections are easy to pick up when you encounter them, you should get checked regularly, ideally about every six months. Early diagnosis and treatment reduces the chance of permanent damage or of passing something on. If you’re in an open relationship, it will generally be wisest to even use condoms when fucking with your partner. Theoretically, you should not be able to catch HIV if you’re both always having safer sex with others. But that is in theory. In reality, partners may keep silent if something risky happened during play outside of the relationship. A disturbing number of HIV infections take place within relationships. Depending on the situation, it may be wise to preventively start taking PrEP together. (Look here for more information about PrEP.)

Solo or duet?
Will you be entertaining as a duo, hunt separately or do both? Only playing together minimizes the risk of something happening behind his or your back that might bite you in the ass (in the non-sexy sense). However, you would have to be okay with seeing your partner get jiggy with someone else in front of you and vice versa. When playing together with others, keep a close eye on each other. If one of you is feeling left out or otherwise not having a good time, abort the mission, right then and there. Be polite but determined when showing out your guest(s). Your relationship is more important than recreational sex.

“We only date together, because sex is something we always want to share, even if we involve others. For the rest there aren’t many boundaries, as long as it’s safe. And his butt belongs to me alone. It has something to do with dominance and territorial issues I guess, but it would be painful for me to see him get fucked by someone else.”
– David

What to share with others?
Clear boundaries have to be set when getting physical with others. Is kissing allowed? Is topping? Bottoming? The emotional charge of a certain sex act, differs from one person to the next. It won’t be fun to get into fights afterwards — or even worse, while having a sex romp with others together — about something that happened. You may want to keep some activities for just the two of you. For instance: is sleeping over allowed? Even if your boyfriend won’t be home?

Here, there or everywhere?
People can be very territorial. To allow another guy to mate with your man is one thing, but to have him do it in your house is another. When dating apart, you could consider keeping these foreign bodies out of your house and especially out of the marital bed. It may feel weird to sleep snugly together in the bed where your boyfriend just banged another man’s booty. For the same reason, as well as for reasons of hygiene, keep them off the kitchen table. But if dating at home isn’t a real issue for you, consider using a foldable bed or couch, and clean up well after you’re done. You don’t want your boyfriend to come across a used condom or slip on a patch of lube.

If dating separately, are you only allowed to date when one of you is out of the country? Or out of the house? Is it okay to run out for a fuck while your husband is doing the dishes? Or to go home with someone you managed to hook up with while you were out together?

Don’t ask, don’t tell?
If dating separately, one option is to let each other know whenever there has been a date, but only to volunteer as much information as your boyfriend asks for. You don’t want to rub his face in it, but want to be honest and tell him what he wants to know. If you don’t, he will feel out of the loop and may start to resent you for it. Some guys will want to hear all the details and might even get turned on by them, others may not want to hear anything at all. Be careful what you tell shared friends about your exciting adventures in dating; you don’t want these stories to start circulating behind your boyfriend’s back. Please note: if something unsafe happened during a date, warn your partner about it, no matter how stupid or ashamed you feel. You don’t want to risk passing on something to him and have him find out for himself.

Once or more?
Some couples want maximum emotional detachment when playing around, to minimize the risk of romantic complications. This means sex in public or fairly anonymous places like saunas or darkrooms, or sex with someone in private but never more than once with a particular guy.

However, if that doesn’t float your boat, there is the option of finding fuckbuddies: friends you also have sex with now and then. This does ask for a lot of emotional maturity and sensitivity from everyone involved, as someone could end up getting seriously hurt. There has to be respect all around. Don’t mess around with the emotions of your buddy, especially if he is single. Don’t make him promises you can’t keep. There can only be one Number One, and that should be your boyfriend. Your true partner should not have to accept being downgraded temporarily and may toss you out if you try. Your single buddy, however, also deserves someone who will be able to make him his Number One. So don’t stand in his way if he finds a boyfriend, even if it means you lose at least the sex part of the friendship and even if you feel jealous. Shit — as they say — happens. Also take a step back if you or your buddy are starting to fall in love with each other — unless it is completely mutual, has fantastic long-term potential and really can’t be fought. In that case, brace yourself for lots and lots of drama.

There are relationships consisting of more than two partners. Sometimes all these partners are of equal standing and sometimes there will be an extra-special bond with one of them; this person is then called the primary partner. In the latter case, the relationship can be compared to an open relationship in which both partners have fuckbuddies. Though in a polyamorous context, the bond with the buddies is stronger and they are seen as full partners. It’s hard to make general statements about polyamorous relationships. One of the common, shared thoughts behind them is that love is beautiful and you shouldn’t create boundaries to it. The lack of a solid structure can be liberating but may also lead to a complex and confusing web of emotions and loyalties. This kind of relationship might be difficult to navigate for people who have little to no experience with relationships, but they might see it as an interesting experiment.

“Men are only as loyal as their options.”
– Bill Maher, comic

Final edit: 27-10-2018 Dutch version here.

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