Authors: Tristan Taormino
Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Self Help, #Sociology
I have a theory that we've evolved three distinctly different
brain systems for mating and reproduction. The sex drive
being one, that craving for sexual gratification. The second
is romantic love, that obsession, the craving, the ecstasy, the
focused attention, the motivation to win a particular mating
partner; that early, intense romantic love. And the third
brain system is attachment, that sense of calm and security
that you can feel with a long-term partner.
What I find most remarkable about these three drives... is
that they're often unconnected. You can feel a powerful sense
of attachment to a long-term partner while you feel intense
romantic love for somebody else, while you feel this sex
drive for a whole range of people.'
Fisher's conclusions support the folks who simply cannot imagine
themselves in any kind of relationship other than an open one, like Shari,
who says, "I've never had a monogamous fantasy in my life ...I just never,
ever, dreamt of `him.' I always dreamt of `them,' from the earliest days
of my sexual fantasizing. My sexuality is very fluid and wide-ranging."
Freedom is one of the major draws of an open relationship. Many who
choose nonmonogamy appreciate the freedom they have to acknowledge their attraction to multiple people-whether they act on those
feelings or not.
According to societal expectations, you might be single or dating,
but the inherent assumption is you're actively looking for "the one"
and want to "settle down." If you're living with someone, engaged, or
married, you're assumed to be monogamous. Within a committed relationship, the expectations get even more specific. Open relationships
can give you the freedom to create unique relationships, explore yourself and your sexuality, and challenge society's expectations.
Putting limits on love is like putting a leash on me. Even if it isn't
tight around my neck, knowing it's there is enough... I like being
with my partners because I want to, not because I have to. -Juan
Many people find themselves in relationships that just don't fit
the limited categories or definitions of mainstream society Rather than
trying to cram a nontraditional relationship into the framework of a
traditional one, nonmonogamous people want to redefine relationships,
commitment, fidelity, partnership-and even marriage-on their terms.
Arielle says, "Polyamory gives me the opportunity to have relationships
up and down the spectrum and appreciate them for what they are."
Each person's sexuality is incredibly specific and unique. When you
meet a partner with whom you are sexually compatible, many of your
tastes and desires overlap. But that doesn't mean that everything is a
perfect match. When a sexual difference emerges, you could reject the
partner as not a perfect match and move on, or let your desire go
unfulfilled. Some people take a different route: they choose to explore
with other partners the sexual needs and wants that don't "fit" in their committed relationship with one partner. The notion of an open relationship often comes up when a significant difference between partners
emerges and must be addressed-for example, when she discovers her
bisexuality, or he discovers his desire to crossdress, and their partner
cannot or will not fulfill that particular sexual need.
It's a common scenario for one partner to be kinky and the other
one not. Rather than ask one partner to deny his or her desire for
dominance and submission, or bondage, or different forms of sensation play, the couple agrees to open the relationship to accommodate
the attraction to kink. (In this discussion I use the term kink interchangeably with BDSM, an umbrella term that includes a wide range
of intimate activities-physical, sexual, psychological, spiritual, or a
combination-that usually involve an exchange of power. BD stands
for bondage and discipline; D/s for dominance/submission; S/M for
sadism/masochism, or sadomasochism.)
Dani, who had been married for 10 years, saw a special on HBO
about BDSM one day. She got really excited and wanted to explore it.
Her husband agreed to give it a try, but he just didn't like it. As Dani
put it, "It was hard at first, but as soon as he came to an understanding of what I needed, and that he either couldn't or didn't want to give
it, then he said, `You need to find it someplace else."'
Even if both partners identify as kinky, many of their specific likes
may not overlap. For example, one woman identifies as a Top (the
doer, the one who runs the scene); her partner is a bottom who loves
to be flogged and spanked, but really isn't into psychological playthey tried it a few times together and it just didn't work. Because they
have an open relationship, they are free to explore activities their partner doesn't enjoy. I've also witnessed relationships begin with one
dynamic, for example, Daddy/boy, only to change when the boy figures out one day that he's more of a Dominant (the person who is in
control or wields authority over the submissive). The couple can transition into a relationship without a Dominant/submissive dynamic, and each can find other people to play with. This allows them to keep
a valued relationship intact while also recognizing that a significant
change has occurred and needs to be addressed. Because our desires
are often complex, erotic differences can be much more subtle than
simply bisexual/straight or kinky/nonkinky
Since I am a bisexual switch with a vanilla streak married to a
nonswitching Dom, if we weren't open sexually we couldn't be
together no matter how deep our love for each other. Having
outside partners to fill in the gaps in our compatibility prevents
resentment and ill will; this way, no one is viewed as deficient in
any way, or seen as inadequate. -Shari
Perhaps you and your partner have not identified a specific
difference or incompatibility, but you've always had the desire for emotional and erotic diversity with multiple partners. Society would have
us believe that one person should fulfill all of our needs and desires:
physical, emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual, and all the rest. This is
the myth of finding "the One": the one partner you're "meant" to be
with, your soul mate, your Prince Charming, the girl of your dreams.
Nonmonogamous folks reject this myth and acknowledge that no one
person can be, or should be expected to be, everything for another.
People in open relationships enjoy exploring different dynamics with
different people-sexual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Nonmonogamy gives them the opportunity to create unique relationships
that nourish and support each other.
I am someone's soul mate, someone's youth, someone's slut, someone's girlfriend. Sometimes I am all of those at once. My partners
inspire me to love, take care of me, call me their slut, and take
me out for sushi. It's good to have all those qualities, and rare to
find them in one person. -Hannah
Polyamory helps me not feel frustrated or resentful towards one
partner if they aren't everything to me. -Callie
Many people in monogamous relationships deal with cheating all
the time: the fear of cheating, the suspicion of cheating, the discovery
of cheating, the aftermath of cheating. Nonmonogamous folks recognize that during a lifetime you can and will be attracted to other people
even if you are in a wonderful, fulfilling relationship; they make room
in their relationship for these attractions rather than allow them to
cause anxiety, jealousy, and unreasonable expectations.
I get to live in the realness of knowing that my partner and I have
desires for others and we are able to negotiate and explore them
with respect to each other as primaries. -Khane
It is estimated that nationwide about 2 million gay men and lesbians
currently have or formerly had a straight spouse.2 Amity Pierce Buxton,
author of The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight
Spouses and Families, has interviewed over 9,000 gay and straight
spouses since the mid-80s. Buxton says that when one partner in a marriage comes out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, about a third of the couples
break up right away, a third break up after about two years, and a third
stay married indefinitely3 We don't know a whole lot about that last
third-the more than 30 percent of mixed-orientation marriages that
remain intact. From the research I've read, many of them are negotiating open relationships, but few consider themselves polyamorous or
identify with or seek out a nonmonogamous community. As a result,
they are left out of significant discussions about nonmonogamy
Research and writing on this topic (including Buxton's) makes
a point of distinguishing between partners who come out as gay or
lesbian and partners who come out as bisexual. Those are individual identity choices; I am less concerned with how a person identifies and
more interested in the relationship between the straight spouse and the
nonstraight spouse, because that ultimately determines what style of
open relationship will work for them. Some couples remain primary
partners and continue to have a sexual relationship, while others end
the sexual element of their partnership. In one of Buxton's studies, the
straight husband of a bisexual woman wrote: "I compare my wife and
me to a glove with fingers that fit absolutely perfect. It's the thumb that
is just wrong. The more we struggle to make the thumb fit, the worse
off we make the fingers. If we free ourselves to adjust the gloves for our
thumbs, then the fingers return to their old wonderful fit.""
One of the most difficult issues facing mixed-orientation marriages
is that they began as one thing-heterosexual marriage-and must
transform into something radically different-an open relationship
with no script, no plan, and usually no support, understanding, or
acceptance from society. Unlike unmarried couples and couples with
the same orientation, these couples don't sit down one day to negotiate an open marriage in the absence of a serious event: the coming out
of one spouse prompts the change, and they are restructuring their
relationship essentially to keep it from ending.
Some folks consciously choose open relationships as a path for personal
growth and the growth of their relationships. They want to be challenged by their relationships. They want to push themselves to confront
feelings like jealousy, possessiveness, or attachment, and work through
these emotions to gain greater self-awareness. They want to learn and
change through their relationships.
I am a very independent, autonomous, adventurous person. I start
to feel suffocated and antsy when my life feels too domestic and
mundane. Multiple relationships force me to stay in the moment and on my toes emotionally, to communicate better, and to face
fear on a weekly basis. -Elizabeth
Similarly some polyamorous people see their relationship style as a
fundamental part of their spirituality. They believe that opening oneself
up to multiple relationships is part of their spiritual identity and practice.
Kathleen, who calls herself "technically Pagan with some Buddhist and
Gnostic Christian," says, "Part of my job on the planet is to express and
experience love. We traditionally have a very narrow view of how you
should do that. I don't think there's necessarily a'one soul mate.' I think
if there's a loving god out there, why would he limit us to only one?"
After some careful self-reflection, you may decide that monogamy is
your preferred relationship style. Great! A disturbing trend among some
nonmonogamous people is to turn their noses up at those who choose
monogamy, casting them as naive, boring, brainwashed, unfulfilled, and
unevolved-as if everyone in an open relationship is worldly, exciting,
freethinking, fulfilled, and evolved simply by being nonmonogamous!
The truth is, many people do not consciously choose monogamy; society chooses it for them, and it becomes the default. They're not aware
that other options exist or could actually work. Many people don't give
any other option a second thought, and their relationships suffer as a
result. But I also know plenty of folks who've done a great deal of experimenting, soul-searching, and self-analysis and come to the conclusion
that monogamy is the relationship style that works best for them. This
book is not about valuing one relationship choice over another. My mission in sex and relationship education has always been to empower
people to explore all their options, discover what works best for them,
and go out and get it.
There is no one "right" reason for deciding to create an open relationship; however, there is a common theme in what inspires people to
step outside monogamy: making a conscious, thoughtful choice to do
what works best for them, even if what works best goes against society's norms. If you decide that nonmonogamy is worth looking into,
the next step is to figure out what your version of nonmonogamy looks
like, then try it. Various forms of nonmonogamy could work for
anyone, in theory. The true test is to jump in with both feet and see if
it works for you in practice.
Benefits and Challenges
Creating a list of pros and cons may be helpful as you assess
whether an open relationship is right for you. I like to think of
the pros and cons as benefits and challenges. Here are some to
get you started.
• Avoid feeling stifled, limited, confined
• Be free to acknowledge or to act on attractions, desires
• Be free to create relationships that work for you
• Have multiple sexual partners and experiences
• Have multiple relationships
• Get different needs met with different people
• Explore different sexual or relationship dynamics
• No need to end one relationship to start another
• No need to be all things to one partner and vice versa