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Open Relationships Explained and Do They Work?

‘Open relationships‘ – an umbrella term used to describe several different ways a couple can identify outside the class of monogamy. Swinging, polyamory and monogamish are just some of the ways that couples can get frisky with people other than their primary partner. In today’s day and age, it’s becoming increasing popular – chances are you know someone who’s tried it.

Think you could do it? Well if you’re reading this then you might be curious about it, so to help you make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you, here’s a brief overview of what this modern phenomenon is all about.

You might be wondering how on earth couples manage to pull off something that innately feels so unnatural. Well, the truth is humans haven’t always been monogamous. The construct of monogamy developed from the agricultural revolution; when families paired up their offspring to grow their assets and form alliances. Over time, the process of getting married was born out of this paring-up which eventually morphed into the idea that we find our one true love and remain with them until the end of time.

Given that this whole soulmate thing is a fairly recent construct, our brains haven’t developed the mechanisms for it, so we find ourselves having to resist temptations to stay faithful to our partners – which, let’s be honest, can be prettttty damn difficult at times.

Modern couples are taking control back from these restrictive social norms by getting into relationships that are both trusting and respectful AND give them the freedom to enjoy sex outside the dyad. Some couples do this by having threesomes, some do it by swinging with other couples, some are monogamish which means they’re romantically committed but allow for sexual exploration with others at agreed-upon times and others just make their own rules up altogether.

How do couples make it work? Scientists recently explored this question by surveying 1,658 participants via an online questionnaire. They found that mutual consent, comfort, and communication were key factors for a successful open relationship. Interestingly, they also found that both the monogamous and consensual nonmonogamous couples had similar low levels of loneliness and psychological distress, and both reported high levels of sexual satisfaction.

Sarah, who’s currently in an open relationship, said she makes it work “pretty easily. Boundaries were set i.e. not being allowed to bring someone back to our bed and anytime someone slept with someone, it would be shared the next day or next week, whenever it was appropriate. We openly discuss things if we need to and if not then that’s cool too. The key is to just be honest…and open.” So if you’re considering it then good communication is paramount! Discuss your fears, curiosities, apprehensions and lay everything on the table for you and your partner to carefully construct the right arrangement that suits both of you.

Finally, it’s important to understand that open relationships definitely aren’t for everyone and you should never feel pressured to enter into one if you aren’t comfortable with it. If you’re curious but unsure if you could handle it then take some steps to test the waters – perhaps allow kissing rights where you’re both permitted to kiss another person.

If that runs smoothly then consider upping it to foreplay and eventually move to sex. Again, every relationship is different so put rules in place and set boundaries, and before you know it you’ll be living life like the enlightened 21st-century ultramodernist that you are!

Laura Miano is a Sex Therapist in Training whose passion is centred on breaking down barriers surrounding sexuality and encouraging people to explore their sexuality in new ways. She celebrates diversity and believes that each individual is entitled to their own sexual identity. To contact her or see more of her content, email [email protected] or follow @lauramianosexology.

General FAQ

Do open relationships work?

Couples enter open relationships for a myriad of valid reasons, and many find them successful. What's important to making an open relationship work is transparency between the parties involved, as well as open communication, mutual consent and comfort with exploring non-monogamy.

Are open relationships bad?

While they may not be the most common form of relationship to have in modern society, there are many reasons a couple might embark down the open relationship path, and while some might find it a challenge, others are comfortable with the concept of both themselves and their partner exploring their sexuality with other people.

Is an open relationship healthy?

Open relationships require honesty and transparency to work long-term, but there are many healthy examples of couples who have maintained healthy open relationships for many years.

What is the point of open relationships?

While the security of traditional monogamy may be the norm for most, open relationships are an option for people in many scenarios, such as long-distance relationships, or couples who love each other but simultaneously want the freedom to be sexual with other people.

Can an open relationship save a relationship?

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a relationship that is on the rocks, opening a relationship is becoming increasingly common to heighten interest between couples, while stirring feelings or emotions that might otherwise have become stagnant.