Still Young

Friday, June 05, 2009

Question

I was having a heated discussion with my husband about opening our relationship. We got married fairly young. I am still in love with him and want to stay with him for the rest of my life. But there are certain experiences I never got a chance to have, and I would like to do a little more living. He wasn't very crazy about the idea, but he did say if I ever did anything with anybody else, I had better be safe and take precautions. The last few days, we've been feeling very close to one another. I was expecting him to be negative or distant, but he seems relieved that we got everything out into the open. Now I am wondering exactly what he meant by that comment. Was he saying that I should go ahead and do what I want to do, as long as condoms are used and he doesn't have to know about it? Is this a workable solution?

Answer

Your husband is the only person who can tell you what he meant or didn't mean by that statement. But it wasn't exactly a ringing, unequivocal endorsement, was it? In my experience, open relationships are tough to navigate. Unless both partners have a commitment to the ideal of nonmonogamy or polyamory and are cooperating and communicating very well about it, the relationship won't be able to handle the stress. This is not to say that monogamy is automatically smooth sailing. I'm not sure which is more difficult—keeping a primary relationship alive through the jealousy and misunderstanding that comes with other partners, or keeping just one person sexually satisfied and interested over the span of many decades. I guess you pick your problems based on what you know about your own personality. Some of us are capable of monogamy; others are not.

What you are suggesting is closer to the adultery model than an open relationship. You would be obligated to keep your adventures a secret. In effect, you'd be living a double life, even if you had his blessing to do so. Some secrets are harder to keep than others, however. If you live in a pretty small town, don't expect privacy or discretion. Any man your husband knows is off limits. And it isn't always easy to keep sex and emotional attachment as far apart as one might like. Good sex tends to lead to a desire to do it again, and that very naturally creates a growing sense of intimacy or even romance. Cultural stereotypes would have it that women are more likely to equate sex and emotional attachment, but my somewhat cynical opinion is that if one partner is not available, the other partner is more prone to fall in love, regardless of gender.Finally, be aware that not all sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) become a dead issue just because you've used a condom. Herpes, syphilis, and genital warts can all be transmitted if you have contact with an open herpes sore, a chancre, or a wart, respectively. You can reduce the risk by carefully inspecting your partner, but research suggests that a significant number of cases of herpes may be transmitted when there is no visible sign of the disease.

What exactly is it that you want to do that you can't experience with your husband? Does he have information about the exact nature of your fantasies or desires? Would he be more motivated to gratify you if he knew these needs were strong enough to make you consider developing other sexual connections?

After reading this, you may feel that I am trying to steer you away from opening your relationship. But my actual goal is to bring up a number of potentially difficult or even explosive issues that all couples who are changing a fundamental aspect of their relationship need to think about. Rather than buying some condoms and answering some personal ads, get your husband to read Dossie Easton's compassionate exegesis, The Ethical Slut, read it with him, and keep talking.