What do you do when you look at someone who is not your primary partner and you say, “Yumm!”? How do you meet your sexual needs when the love of your life is no longer able to have sex due to illness? When you meet someone new and you want them to know that you prefer an open relationship, what do you say? Are you interested in having a threesome? Have you been invited to an orgy?
Answering any of these questions with a solution outside of sexual monogamy is totally possible. A couple of months ago, I wrote about the importance of more than one relationship feeding our needs and desires; it was an acknowledgment that no one person is able to give us everything we need.
Sexual monogamy is just one type of relationship and I propose that educating people about different relationship models does not increase cheating but does increase honest communication. All relationships require hard work, honesty, respect, and constant communication. Friendships are just as hard to navigate as a 50 year marriage. Polyamory, open relationships, or participating in an orgy are talked about as if they are on the fringes of society, when in fact they have been in practice by humans since we crawled out of the ooze.
ResearchBefore I get sidetracked by one of my favorite soapboxes – the creation of monogamy/marriage to control womxn – let’s dive into some definitions. My deeply nerdy self loves my dictionary and I adore reading the definition of a word – it reveals so much. In no particular order, here are some words connected to relationship models and sexual behaviors:
Friend n. 1a one attached to another by affection or esteem 1b acquaintance
2a one that is not hostile 2b one that is of the same nation, party, or group 3 one that favors or promotes something 4 a favored companion
Monogamy n. 1 the practice or state of being married to only one person at a time 2 [rare] the practice of marrying only once during life 3 Zool. the practice of having only one mate
Open Relationship 1 an intimate relationship that is sexually non-monogamous
Orgy n. 1 secret ceremonial rites held in honor of an ancient Greek or Roman deity and usually characterized by ecstatic singing and dancing - Roman orgies in honor of Bacchus
2a drunken revelry 2b a sexual encounter involving many people : also an excessive sexual indulgence 3 excessive indulgence in something especially to satisfy an inordinate appetite or craving
Polyamory n. 1 the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time
Swinger n. 1 a person who is lively, exciting, and fashionable 2 one who engages freely in sex
Threesome n. 1 a group of three persons or things 2 a golf match in which one person plays his or her ball against the ball of two others playing each stroke alternately 3 a sexual encounter involving three people
Friends and BeyondWho learned something new from these definitions? I had not heard about the golfing threesome before this (probably because I don’t golf). A person who is lively, exciting, and fashionable sounds like it can apply well outside of the 1960s! My absolute favorite is the fourth definition of friend, “a favored companion.”
A friendship is the most widely accepted intimate connection in our society that occurs outside of our primary relationship. Our friends may be the people we do a particular activity with and are a source of connection for shared likes, dislikes, history, and support. Intimacy in friendship can overlap with a romantic/sexual relationship through shared emotional, spiritual, or even physical connection. A romantic or sexual partnership shares many of the same values, connections, and behaviors as a friendship. The overlap is clear and again, widely accepted.
If you expect that a single person will be a friend and a romantic/sexual partner who shares in all the same activities, values, and behaviors as you – this creates an enormous amount of work and pressure for that one individual. Imagine letting go of the expectation that someone completes you or is the “one,” and fill your life with a variety of people who love you, or at the very least like you.
Does this mean you need to jump into a polyamorous relationship? Take up swinging? Invite a third or fourth person into your bedroom? Hardly.
All relationships require a lot of work and honest communication to be successful. What I am trying to suggest is that healthy relationships are rooted in recognizing your needs, while meeting them with awareness and multiple sources i.e. people.
Exploring RelationshipsLet’s get out of my head and try some real-life scenarios. The names have been changed to protect the identities of the folks involved, and none of these folks are located in Colorado. Any similarities to folks you may know are a coincidence.
Scenario 1Parker and Riley have been in a monogamous relationship for 40 years. Parker regularly travels to other countries alone or with a close friend. Riley has an annual camping trip with the same three friends. Although Riley and Parker practice monogamy in their sexual relationship, they have communicated to each other that they feel deep connections – spiritual, emotional, or romantic – to other people in their lives. Both of them openly share the physical attractions they have toward others and use that sexual tension to pleasure each other.
Scenario 2Taylor, Jordan, and Morgan are in a polyamorous relationship. They share household responsibilities, they each contribute monetarily, and they practice open, honest, and clear communication. They have each made a commitment to the other and do not have sexual relationships outside of their core relationship. They have similar values, which help to cement their relationship with each other.
Scenario 3Reagan is on dating websites as someone who is interested in being a third in a threesome. They are interested in joining two people who are already in a relationship and looking for an additional person for their sexual activities. Reagan is not looking for a committed relationship and is exploring experiences. They do ask that any couple they have sex with agrees to a set of rules about the interaction, including that the couple only communicates with Reagan as a couple and never as individuals.
Scenario 4Riley and Avery have an open relationship. Avery has a chronic illness that impedes their libido and has made an agreement with Riley that they can have an open sexual relationship. Riley and Avery are married and are monogamous in every other aspect of their relationship. They continue to have sex with each other and openly discuss when either one of them wants to have sex with someone else.
CoooooomuuuunicaaaaationThe key element of all of these scenarios is communication. Some people choose to write up contracts that are changeable depending on the situation. Some people have verbal agreements that they revisit monthly. Other people discuss details and agreements as the need arises. However it is done, exploring different relationships requires constant work, honesty, and respect.
Bees don’t live off of one flower and humans shouldn’t have to live off of one relationship. Go and find people who fill your cup, meet your desires, and challenge you to be a better person!
Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com