While monogamy is considered the romantic norm for establishing a family, 32% of US adults think that their ideal relationship is non-monogamous. Besides, approximately 4–5% of all adults in the US have consensual nonmonogamous relationships. Nearly a fifth of adults under their 30s have had sex with someone else, with their primary partner’s active consent.
Open relationships (or consensually non-monogamous relationships) are those in which all of the partners agree that having sexual and/or romantic relationships with other people is acceptable.
Studies show decreased rates of transmission of STIs when partners negotiate non-monogamy, and increased rates of transmission among those who cheated and hid their sex life from primary partners.
The most common form of an open relationship is when two people in a primary relationship agree to open up the relationship sexually but not romantically. However, it is an umbrella term that covers all other forms of nonmonogamy, such as monogam-ish, swingers, polyamory, etc.
The image below by Franklin Veaux illustrates most types of nonmonogamy.
Here are a few most popular forms of non monogamy:
Polyamorous relationships can be hierarchical, with 1 partner being the “primary” partner, or nonhierarchical, in which all partners have equal standing. The word “polyamory” comes from the Greek and Latin roots and literally means “many loves”. Poly people can be romantically involved with multiple people at the same time. Poly relationships include long-term, short-term, serial, or swinging romantic and sexual connections. 2016 studies showed that one-fifth of U.S. adults under 30 are open to poly relationships. There are a lot of asexuals in the polyamorous community who can have an emotional, romantic relationship with multiple partners who aren’t also forced to be asexual or celibate.
Dr. Jill McDevitt says, “If the relationship is healthy, happy, and secure, polyamory seems to fare better than if an open relationship or extradyadic relationship is tried as a way to ‘fix’ things, get major emotional or sexual needs met that aren’t met in the primary relationship, or to put a band-aid on infidelity.”
Polyfidelity is a committed romantic group relationship of 3 or more consensual adults. The term originated from communal living ideologies that became popular in the early ‘70s. Unlike polyamory, it focuses on family rather than the individual. Here are a few factors unique to polyfidelity: negotiating relationship parity, balancing dynamics of accessibility, and developing nonbinary relationship roles. Members of polyfidelity often use their group dynamics to balance each other, resolve conflict, and better express aspects of their personalities. You can learn more about the polyfidelity in the 2017 Jeff R. Peterson’s study.
Swinging (aka Wife Swapping or Partner Swapping) is a form of sex between two consenting couples or between a couple and a single female or male. Swingers enjoy and seek sexual excitement watching other couples have sex, so they often organize meetings with like-minded couples. There are also Soft Swingers, the couples who enjoy public sex and swing clubs, but prefer to have sex exclusively with each other. Some estimates say there are as many as 15 million swingers in the U.S., 60% of whom are sure this lifestyle improved their relationship.
It’s important to note that open relationships have nothing to do with cheating and are a great way to explore a new range of feelings and revive your love life.
However, they might get messy if you don’t follow a few basic rules. So here are a few tips on how to make your open relationship work.
1. Be honest with yourself and your partner
When it comes to relationships, honesty really is the best policy. This is why the first thing you need to do before entering an open relationship is to consider how it will benefit you.
Start by identifying why you used to live in a monogamous relationship and what this lifestyle represents to you. Then ask yourself why do you consider making a change. What would you want your open relationship to look and feel like? How would you bring it up to your partner? Polyamory only works when everyone is on board with it. Once you’ve decided that you can include other people or lovers into your relationship, you can make it whatever you want.
Learn more about ethical nonmonogamy online. You can start by following people who practice ethical nonmonogamy on social networks, and watching educational TedTalk videos.
Here is a great example:
You can also find non monogamous people in dating apps such as Pure, and ask them about their experience with this lifestyle. Pure has video chats with virtual masks that can make you feel comfortable opening up to a new adventure. Video chats are much more fun than endless texting anyway!
If you decide to open up your primary relationship, create a mission statement to clarify both partners’ needs and desires. Be honest with yourself, as transparency will be crucial to keeping the relationship a pleasant experience for all parties involved.
And remember that cheating might occur even in a non-monogamous relationship. If you start seeing someone else without telling your primary partner or boyfriend/girlfriend that would be considered cheating.
2. Communication is everything
Everybody’s definition of an open relationship is different. Once you find the right partner make sure to discuss explicit guidelines, boundaries and deal-breakers to be on the same page. These guidelines should take into account both partners’ comfort levels and minimize opportunities for harm.
Setting limitations on time or level of intimacy will make you feel more safe, confident, and help avoid feeling uncomfortable while navigating the relationship.
Dr. Elizabeth Sheff, a sociologist who has written several books on polyamory, developed an exercise that might help you:
“I have couples write three lists of something they absolutely must have in a relationship; something they would like, but are willing to flex on; and something they absolutely will not allow in a relationship. So it’s three columns of your boundaries and where they fall. Each person does that independently, and then come back and compares lists — just to give yourself a baseline of, ‘What do I want?’”
Can you have actual sex, or can it only be cybersex? Can you have sex with the same person more than once? Can you have emotions attached? Can you have sex in your home if you live with your partner? There are real human needs behind these questions, such as safety, privacy, stability, etc. Make sure to have regular check-ins about how you both feel in this relationship.
Keep in mind that these discussions might get challenging at times, so it’s best to try to add some humor or agree to take a break when things go south.
The difference between monogamous and non-monogamous relationships is more variables of change. There are more people involved in an open relationship, therefore more emotions, and more complexity. It’s important to remember that respect equals taking care of your partner’s well being and feelings.
It should be discussed early on in the relationship what’s found respectful and what’s not. Can you text somebody else while with your partner? If you arrive at a party together, can you flirt or make out with other people? Are you comfortable being physical in public places? How often will you get tested, what tests will you get done? How will your sex toys be used? How would they be cleaned? Once again, remember that you can’t expect somebody to just know what’s right for you.
4. No expectations
And last but not least, please make sure to have no expectations in an open relationship. These types of relationships always have an open end, and most likely, they won’t turn into something different in the long run. Your partner might decide they want to be monogamous with somebody else and breaks up with you, or you realize you’re no longer attracted to your current partners. So it’s better to protect yourself from disappointment, take things lightly, and take things one day at a time. Remember, you can’t change or control what the other person wants. All you can control is yourself. So just try your best to enjoy the ride and collaborate with your partners.
5. Find open-minded, non-judgmental, and trustworthy partners
If you want to spice things up with your partner, or find new partners for an open relationship — try Pure. It is an app that is designed to help people find partners with the same kinks and arrange the dates as fast as possible. Pure app offers a friendly and welcoming community of people who are open to all kinds of sexual adventures. You don’t have to share your personal information, no social media links or phone numbers are required. The app has self-destructed chats and sends you notifications if your partner tries to take a screenshot of your conversation. It’s really easy to start – just download the app, sign up, and create your first post with the description of your ideal partner. Browse through other users’ ads and find your perfect match within a 1,000 km radius!
To Sum It Up
Relationship satisfaction and quality are not determined by the relationship construct – monogamous or nonmonogamous. Open relationships might be stigmatized by society, but it doesn’t make them less awesome. After all, if your relationship offers mutual respect, sexual satisfaction, great communication, and a level of trust – you’re gonna have a great time with any amount of partners.
Once trying out a non monogamy relationship you’ll probably have numerous questions on how to navigate it. If you have friends practicing open relationships, you can start with chatting with them about the whole experience. If you don’t know anybody like that in real life you can always find the right person to chat to on Pure app.
You'll crave for more!
Here is a great conversation about polyamory with Join Archer’s founding publisher Amy Middleton, Liz Duck-Chong, Anne Hunter and Dani Weber, where they discuss how to exist in relationships defined by openness and communication.
Open Relationships FAQ
What’s the difference between polyamory and open relationships?
As sex educator Davia Frost notes, often people who are polyamorous consider it to be a huge part of their identity, much like being gay or queer. Polyamory is all about loving and romantic relationships with more than one person, while that’s not necessarily the case in open relationships.
Does being in an open relationship mean that I’m cheating?
Not necessarily. We highly recommend being 100% honest with your primary partner, as well as other partners involved. This will benefit you in many ways, and ensure a safe and enjoyable environment for everybody involved.
What disadvantages should I consider before opening up my relationship?
If you’re bad at communication and your primary relationship is not stable to begin with, starting an open relationship will probably be a bad idea for you. You need to be able to communicate well with your partner. Otherwise this can ruin your relationship instead of improving it.
Why would I try an open relationship?
Here are a few reasons to consider to open up a relationship.
1. You want to explore your sexuality
2. You and your partner have mismatched libidos
3. You have a particular fantasy that you want to explore and your partner doesn’t
4. The thought of your partner having sex with someone else turns you on
How to handle jealousy?
Against popular belief, poly people also feel jealous at times. However, they learn to respond to feelings of envy with openness and curiosity, rather than shame. According to Dr. Dougherty, the need to be monogamous serves to protect our minds from what other people/society might think. It’s not realistic to think that once you open up your relationship your emotions will change magically. Communication is key to any relationship, but especially a non monogamous one.
Why would anybody want to be a secondary partner in an open relationship?
Believe it or not, some people are not interested in having a primary partner at all, (for example) because they might have another commitment that takes up a lot of their life. Or they might already have another relationship that fills a primary role. All people are different, and have different needs. Some people just don’t fit in certain roles in a relationship.