Exotic 20-something curvaceous beauties in skin-tight clubwear just begging to be conquered and dominated.
For women, it might bring to mind vivid images of George Clooney and Brad Pitt spiriting the lonely housewife away from a boring afternoon of menu-planning and reality shows, ravishing her with their attentions, and bringing her to the height of carnal bliss.
In both cases, there tends to be a large gap between the fantasy and the reality.
Open relationships seem to be a fashionable trend today. The couples talking about it often come off as sophisticated and self-confident, with a touch of smugness. Rarely will you hear anything but that this was the best decision they had ever made, and that it had seamlessly and smoothly flowed out of their boundless love for their partner as they both became more mature and confident in the relationship. While that might sometimes be the case, I find that it is a little bit more complicated than that.
What is an open relationship?
Open relationships can take on many different forms, from having casual sex with others to being able to have an affair on the side or while traveling alone. It is often expected that the couples will be open and honest about their past and present sexual behavior and fantasies. Some couples have strict rules about the who, when, where, and how often aspects of this kind of relationship, while others prefer not to define the limits and allow the exact form to develop freely.
Having been in an open relationship myself, I can tell you that your sexual experiences with others, both inside and outside of your couple, will be enhanced if you are aware of and moving forward on your main relationship problems, combined with a strong relationship trust. If you do not have a solid foundation of openness and honesty, and a real commitment to take care of problems as they come up, you may find that leaving the boundaries of your monogamous relationship will lead to insecurity, jealousy, fights and an eventual break-up.
You might ask: why then have an open relationship if you are so fulfilled with your partner?
Love and relationships, Sex and relationships:
In a perfect world, love and sex are one, but in our present world, love and sex don’t necessarily come together, even in happy relationships. In fact, they are often separated. You can love your significant other, but not share a strong sexual bond. Or you could be very compatible sexually, but have not much else to keep you together. This is not to be misinterpreted or judged negatively, it is simply a topic that needs to be addressed, progressively, as it is a very delicate one.
My partner, whose honesty I have always appreciated, did not introduce the open relationship topic in the most sensitive manner. I shall never forget that Sunday morning, when, over our homemade brunch, as I was talking about how strong our love bond was, he blurted out: “The only cloud in our relationship is monogamy.”
I took a deep breath…
There were a number of reactions inside of my body, from my trust issues in relationships getting triggered to horrible visions of so-called “free love” where I was the only non-hippy in the room, with an ugly body, acting like some reject of society while my husband was surrounded by four sex goddesses. Of course, when intense fear is awakened within you, it is hard not to envision the worst.
All of what I had heard about men not being able to stay faithful, or not being able to hold a relationship commitment was ringing in my ears. Maybe all these women embittered by men had been right all along, after all? I should have listened to them! Men are not into long-lasting romance, and love until “death do us part".
At least my husband was---and is---honest with me, and he explained his point-of-view more than once at length. He put in plain words the fact the he could both love me very much, and also have more than one sexual connection with other women. This did not mean, in his case, that he did not enjoy the sex with me, but that his body was also yearning for sex with others.
At the time, I still had many preconceived notions around marriage, love, sex, and monogamy. I was too full of unprocessed fears and sexual rage, along with my unconsciousness and ignorance around my own body and sexuality, combined very little experience in intimate relationships. Besides, I could not understand how he could be attracted to so many other women just physically. In the case of the few select men to whom I have been attracted, I was always drawn by their energy and charisma over long periods of time, after which came the physical attraction. I was never interested in the physical aspect alone.
What I appreciated then, and still do today, was the fact that this touchy topic was on the table, under the Light, and not denied, repressed, or kept hidden. The latter is the kind of fermentation of energy that fosters lying, cheating, deception, and betrayal, in one form or another.
Secondly, I also could grasp my husband’s excellent point about the double standard we have around sex in our society. Many times we indulge in food, drugs of all kinds including alcohol and nicotine, and that is considered acceptable. Some will even argue that we should give our bodies what the body wants at the time---I was one of them! However, when it comes to satisfying our body’s sexual desires, it is another story all together!
I started to reflect deeply on these new ideas in my healing process, with a firm intention to get to the bottom of my issues around open relationships. I quickly got to a point where I was ready to give my husband his sexual freedom; at least, I was not going to keep him imprisoned within the walls of monogamy, and more importantly, not encourage him to present another non-truthful self to me than who he really was, and what he really wanted. However, I, myself, was not ready to take the plunge, for besides my own negative reactions, I was and am looking for a vision of sacred sex in the world.
On newsstands and on television, in films and magazines, sex is over-exposed, over-used and over-sold in the most superficial and often depraved ways. Men and women are constantly taunted by the sex industry; both the methods used to hook us, and the sexual images themselves are tasteless, crude, debasing or simply ridiculous, unreal, and not inspiring in the least.
Still, for my partner, who is almost exclusively sexually aroused by visual images, the presentation of sex out in the world, including pornography, attracts him, and that is a fundamental difference between us. He is routinely aroused by the physical body of many different women, while I, at most, may be attracted to the energy of a few men.
While he viewed sex and relationships as belonging to two different worlds, with the potential for some overlap, I viewed them as integral parts of the same world. Even when I allowed myself to fantasize about passionate connections with other men, it was always with men whom I found inspirational, whose energy I liked, and never just with those whose body was attractive.
Be Honest and Transparent, To Yourself and To Your Partner:
Transparency on both sides is a must when considering an open relationship. I feel that transparency in love relationships is important, but even more so in open relationships.
Back to my story….I was dealing with the various emotions, including a lot of terror, coming up around letting go of monogamy, and I was still getting pressured from my husband about opening myself to experimenting with him and others sexually. I would push back his pressure by arguing that he already had his sexual freedom, but that I was not yet ready to join him, knowing full well that he was aware of the potential danger from plunging into something so new and taboo as an open relationship.
At the time, as my partner defined it, an open relationship meant the ability to hook up with someone else for a couple of weeks each year. The most threatening aspect of an open relationship for me was exactly this idea of connecting with another person for a couple of weeks a year. Of course, he had someone in mind already, and I did not. I was afraid that having an affair for a few weeks would become the start of real relationship building with someone else. If it is done on a regular basis with the same person, then the latter becomes a mistress or a lover. I was scared to death of that happening to us, and, as I found out later, so was he.
A few times, I reflected to him that he could use to check himself inside to feel any possible insecurities he may have. It never occurred to me to insist more than a couple of times about my partner’s possible fears around open relationships. After all, he had introduced the concept into in our couple, and he always claimed that he was more than ready. I was the one who delayed our future fun, and was never going to be ready.
Two or three years later, I met a man who inspired me enough that I started to desire an affair with him, but I found it difficult to bring it up to my husband honestly, although I should have been able to, at least in theory. I now believe that, without knowing it consciously or having the right words, I was feelings my husband’s denied fears about the idea of an open relationship. What made the idea more threatening to my husband was that he had met this man as well, and knew how magnetic he was to me.
When I brought up the fact that I did not necessarily, at least at first, want to experiment sexually with this man with my husband present, but rather that I wanted to have my own affair the way he had expressed this same desire years ago, his response was not what I expected. He was not open to the idea at all. I reminded him that I was following his definition, and that he could go with the woman he had had in mind for so long, and I would play with the man I wanted. He then replied that he did not want this, as he had a feeling we, I and the other guy, would have more fun than they would!
From that moment on, my partner redefined the open relationship to basically mean sexual relationship in which we would both, together, experiment with others sexually and nothing more. This new definition did not suit me, as I was drawn to getting to know another man, and freely exploring a fling by myself. This desire of mine was heavily judged by my partner, and he guilt-tripped me for years about it. According to him, I was too emotional, and, since I could not have sex just for sex, but could feel feelings and passion for another man, I should not connect alone with one. He, on the other hand, could connect with another woman, of course, since he could separate both. Double standard do not work, however, and are not life sustaining or healthy for anyone involved.
I was forbidden to go for my desire, since my sexuality and feelings were so connected. In other words, I could not have casual sex, since “casual” was not part of my modus operandi. But really how many people do you know who can have casual sex without feeling at least something for the person they are having sex with? Yes, women may be more emotional, but the truth is that very few men will have an affair with a woman they dislike or have no feelings at all for. At least with my man, there is a minimum of feelings involved.
If you are going to follow a predetermined form and definition of what your open relationship should look like, then you need to both agree with it and abide by it, and not have one dictate the rules for the other. A man and a woman will most likely not react the same way to an open relationship. However, if the relationship is to be open, it has to be open for both parties, and not have one side dictate the terms to the other.
Although men, and especially married men, are traditionally the ones who push for open relationships, more often than not, I have seen that once their wife or girlfriend starts to come into her own sexually, and opens up to the sexual freedom, the men start panicking, and try to control the new energy flow. This often leads to the woman closing herself off again and shutting down; it was already a major feat that she was able to open up more sexually, and it simply becomes easier just to acquiesce and go along with the new rules.
When I divorced my husband, only to get back together with him six months later, he finally revealed how scared and threatened he had felt about my sexuality, and that that had essentially been the reason he pushed for an open relationship. He thought that allowing me freedom, while controlling it was the only way he could keep me around. It was hard for me to believe, after all those years of my being the “terrified slow one”, and especially considering there was nothing going on with my sexuality---at least that I was aware of! I came to understand that I did not need to be sexually promiscuous to set off fear in my partner; between my sexual potential, which he felt, and his own primal fears around women’s sexuality, especially the fear of not being able to satisfy one, he was dealing with an explosive cocktail which he kept well hidden, and denied.
Whether or not you are considering an open relationship, but especially important if you are, transparency of feelings, intentions and desires first with yourself, and then with your loved one is imperative and unavoidable. Transparency does not have to mean full disclosure; that is for your healing process to sort out and balance what needs to be said, when, how, and if your romantic partner is ready. Notwithstanding, one knows what needs to be shared and what does not. The same goes for the people you may meet if you are in open relationship, in that it would only be right to let them know that you are not looking for a long-term commitment, but that you have someone you love who shares your life.
When we decided to become conscious and real about temptation outside of our marriage, and after we had both connected sexually with other people, the idea of having an affair with other people gradually started to lose its glamour. The forbidden fruit was no longer one, and thus less interesting.
In a strange way, I found that having this sexual freedom in my love relationship empowered my romantic bond and my attachment to my boyfriend. There is no longer a hidden or unconscious temptation. The temptation is now allowed; the going outside of our couple for another passion or sexual adventure had been demystified. As with most things in life, once something is allowed or available, i.e. no longer rare or scarce, then that something gets normalized, less exciting, and just part of our daily reality.
An open relationship can have its problems, and can be traumatic if you are not emotionally ready for this, especially if you are not committed to dealing with the insecurities and self-doubt that will inevitably come up. I, for instance, was terrified to lose my life companion to another woman who would satisfy him more sexually. If you are not feeling ready, it is crucial to get ready by imagining, for instance, your partner bonding sexually with another person, and take the time to be consciously present with whatever emotions and images that might come up from inside of you.
Still, it is true for most of us that once a desire is satiated, it loses a lot of appeal, especially if the attraction was not profound in the first place. Most of the physical and sexual fantasies vanished fairly quickly in our open relationship, and today, we are both more drawn to deepen our own relationship, and understand sacred sex.
It took me seven years from the time my husband put the open relationship concept on the table to finally consider involving myself seriously. Then it took another couple of years of flirting with the idea, to finally get “down and dirty” so to speak. I did discover I had more of sexual appetite and capacity than I had ever imagined, and I was no longer simply satisfied with flirting relationships as I had been for so long. I guess you can say I became more of a woman through the experience, and I also strengthened my love relationship.
Today, I believe that it is easier to love one person romantically and to be monogamous in your heart, but much harder to physically desire only that same person.