We spoke to psychologist and Killing Kittens’ resident sex and relationships expert, Emma Kenny, for her top tips on approaching the conversation…
What exactly is an open relationship?
An open relationship gives both parties the freedom to have sex with others, without having to offer any explanation. It’s about sexual freedom without limitations, but doesn’t involve forming lasting relationships with parties outside of the relationship. As such, they’re different from polyamory, which is about forming loving and intimate relationships with more than one other person – with the agreement and full consent of all those involved. Poly relationships often lead to all parties living together for periods of time, too.
Why are they so popular?
Society is more permissive around sex and relationships than ever before. Settling down is no longer a primary desire among young people, and committing seems less appealing. Technology has also created a sense of a ‘disposable’ and ‘available’ sexual culture, which has inevitably shifted people’s mindsets around sex and relationships. Women feel empowered and are no longer chained by conformist and patriarchal rules, meaning they’re more likely to engage in more liberating sexual experiences. Whilst the majority of men and women will, on the whole, opt for monogamy in the long term, en route to ‘the one’ there are opportunities for interesting diversions, and that includes open relationships.
Can they really work?
Sex and love are subjective experiences and what works for one couple might not work for another. The bigger question us, "Do they work for me and my partner?" If the answer is yes, then more power to you and your relationship. They definitely work for people who want them to, as long as both parties are 100% behind the idea and feel respected within their partnership. Every relationship goes through different stages and shades – some will feel happy with sharing their partner, but when they want to start a family will wish to shift into a more monogamous rhythm.
This is a prime example of why being absolutely sure about what you really want from your partner is key when considering any type of sexual openness. If you have sex together with other people involved, there’s less likelihood that you’ll find yourself in troubling territory – which is where organisations such as Killing Kittens can help. However, if you allow your partner to have sex with whoever they wish on their own, you may feel more challenged when facing the stresses and strains of a monogamous relationship.
How should you suggest an open relationship with your partner?
The only way to introduce this type of scenario to your partner is to be completely honest, and suggest the idea in black and white terms. Ideally, you should reference the fact that this is purely about the physical play and nothing to do with a lack of relationship satisfaction. It’s a potentially emotionally triggering conversation, so you don’t want the proposition to come across as a rejection or lack of commitment.
If you’re a woman and want to bring up the idea of a threesome with another woman, the likelihood is that a man will consider this idea even if he doesn't like the idea of sexual openness. Often this type of fantasy is one he will have toyed with before. If you’re guy who wishes to have sex with other women then it’s likely you’ll get a pretty clear indication straight away about whether this will become a reality.
What if your partner’s not into it?
Respect them, their opinion and their choice. There’s nothing more damaging that coercing someone into a sexual scenario that could cause them distress. The real truth is that the majority of people don't want to have sex with multiple partners whilst in committed and loving relationships and that's absolutely ok. If you don't believe that a monogamous relationship is for you, then don't be with a partner who expresses a strong desire for such a scenario. There are lots of fantasies and role-play that you can master together to ensure that a long-term relationship with one person can offer a lifetime of sexual satisfaction.
What are the rules of an open relationship?
That’s totally up to the parties involved. Some partners really enjoy sharing their sexual conquests with one another, and others agree never to discuss them. For those who share the same sexual experience, such as threesomes or sex parties, then it’s good to create some ground rules. Many men like the idea of seeing their girlfriend or wife having sex with another woman but are horrified at the thought of them even entertaining the idea of sleeping with another man. The key always comes down to open communication, truthful exchanges and a willingness to express when they feel that their boundaries are being pushed outside of their comfort zone.
Should you ever meet the person your partner is sleeping with?
There are no hard and fast rules; it all comes down to personal preference. Should you feel that a sexual relationship is becoming more of a polyamorous possibility then it’s essential to approach that discussion. The main thing to remember is that there’s another human with real feelings that could be hurt by your actions. If you feel that your partner is open enough then introducing a new ‘friend’ may be ok, but they may also come across as competition.
Any essential tips for couples considering an open relationship?
It’s absolutely essential to take precautions and safeguard your sexual health when you’re in an open relationship. Your commitment is to your partner and their safety should be your number one priority. Should you break this trust, you’re at risk of ruining your relationship. Not only that, but it would also make you a pretty irresponsible, immature and selfish lover, which no one really wants to be.