advertisement
04 April 2011

Being open about it

Open or closed relationships, invariably we assume this refers to whether or not a couple plays around outside of their relationship.

We’ve all heard relationships being described as either ‘open’ or ‘closed’. Invariably we assume this refers to whether or not a couple plays around with other sex partners. But there’s another dimension to being in an open or a closed relationship. This has to do with how openly we communicate with our partners about our dalliances with others.

What is an open relationship?
There are varying degrees of open-versus-closed relationships, as opposed to merely two extremes. A few examples that have worked for some couples are as follows:

  • We only play together
    This could include three-way or group play, with an agreement between the couple that they’ll never play with someone else unless they’re both present. This raises a power dynamic of which partner gets to decide who they’ll play with, and what the ‘rules of engagement’ will be.
     
  • We go out together and leave together
    Some couples decide that instead of them both engaging in sexual activity with others, they may allow each other a higher degree of independence. They could go to a party together, separate when they’re there and do whatever they want to, with the proviso that they leave the venue together.
     
  • We only play around when we’re out of town
    A couple may decide that they can play around with others, individually, when they’re away on a business trip or travelling. This avoids others in their home town knowing that the relationship is not closed, thus maintaining a social boundary around the relationship.
  • Limits on behaviour
    Many couples negotiate what can be included on the menu when they play around with others. For some kissing may be a no-no, while for others anal sex could be disallowed and saved only for the couple themselves. There should obviously be discussion on safer sex limits – is barebacking allowed? Are recreational drugs allowed? Is public sex allowed, or must it take place behind closed doors or in a locked cubicle?
  • Limits on who to play with
    Many couples agree that neither is allowed to play with either their mutual or individual friends and that sex must be limited to anonymous strangers. Some couples also agree to limit the number of times they’re allowed to see a sexual partner in order to avoid an emotional relationship developing. No ‘dating’ – many of us are more concerned about emotional monogamy than we are about sexual monogamy. Couples also need to agree on whether group sex is acceptable or not.
  • Don’t ask, don’t tell
    Couples sometimes need to agree on how much information they want to share with each other – some would rather not know any details while others may get off on sharing them. What is crucial is that all couples in open relationships should have sufficient openness in terms of communication to be able to inform each other if either has been placed at risk of HIV infection, for example in the case of barebacking or a condom breaking. Remember that HIV prophylactic treatment (referred to as P.E.P.) must be initiated as soon as possible after exposure to the virus and certainly within a maximum of 72 hours.

  • Invariably one partner is less enthusiastic than the other about opening the relationship. He/she may be fascinated by the idea on some level but has difficulty on a moral level, for example, or he may feel coerced into the idea for fear of losing his partner.
  • Significant power dynamics could emerge in the relationship, especially when one partner feels less secure than the other. If either partner has less perceived power in terms of his physical attractiveness, age, penis size, sexual stamina or even his social skills, he could feel increasingly insecure in the relationship, to the extent that he becomes resentful, feels obliged to compete with his partner for others’ sexual attention or acts out in other dysfunctional ways.
  • Once a relationship is open it is often very difficult to close it again without significant trust issues having to be addressed.

 
NEXT ON HEALTH24X
advertisement

Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Lifestyle »

E-cigarettes: Here are five things to know

E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade, but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the US is feeding caution about a product that's already banned in some places.

Allergy »

Ditch the itch: Researchers find new drug to fight hives

A new drug works by targeting an immune system antibody called immunoglobulin E, which is responsible for the allergic reaction that causes hives.

advertisement