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openrel_big.jpgAs someone who has been in an open relationship for over six years, and who wrote a book about it, and who writes a blog about it, and who talks about it nearly all the time, I am often asked,"how does it work?"  The short answer is, "it works well."  The long answer is, well, really long.  Currently, there is very little work involved in keeping our lives happy and sane and open to good people and fun times.  All the real hard work of our open relationship came at the beginning in a series of conversations we had before anyone started touching anyone else's anything.

Sure, you can just jump into an open relationship, start dating and fucking away, but I would really advise against it.  If you're really interested in non-monogamy, and interested in doing it right, have these conversations.  They will help.  These are not conversations to be had all at once, or conversations that you ever need to consider "done," but are conversations that have made my life the happy little corner of sex and friendships it is today.

Rules for Good Conversations:

1)  Talk (no, really).
2)  Listen (no, REALLY).
3)  Respond (or reflect or affirm or question or nod... do something that shows that you're 2'ing their 1).

Define "Sex."
Really, you've got to spend some time with vocabulary in general, but this is a biggie.  When you and your partner start agreeing to sex with other people, you cannot mean two different things.  Does sex mean intercourse with a penis and vagina?  What about anal sex?  Strap on sex?  Showers?  Oral?  Pictures?  It doesn't matter what you decide, but decide together what each thing means, and then talk about how you feel about it.

Talk about the sex you want.
Once you've got the terms down, you can start making it personal.  This is a pretty big hurdle to jump at the beginnings of these conversations, but a very necessary one to be completely honest about.  When you think about the open relationship you want, what does it look like?  Are you being kissed or fisted?  Do you want hand-jobs or cock and ball torture?

You may find that, especially at first, the intersection of your comfort levels comes well before your dreams of fire station orgies.  You may also find that fire station orgies are a mutually shared fantasy.  This can be a difficult conversation because you're admitting to your partner that you have sexual desires and fantasies that they may not play a significant role in.  You've gotta bite that bullet and work through that conversation.  It will make you both stronger for things to come.  If you're scared to talk about it now, it'll be impossible to talk about when it's happening.

Look at calendars.
You have an infinite (or rechargeable) amount of love and affection and sex and energy to put into your open relationship.  You do not have an infinite amount of time.  You don't need to plan every imaginary date five years in the future, but you need to take a stab at seeing how time could work.  Are you thinking about dating as a couple?  If so, do you both have regular nights free?  Think you're going to see people separately?  When were you planning on doing that?  

This can turn quickly into a conversation about how serious other relationships can be, and can bring up more emotions than you may be ready for.  In my experience, there are more jealousy issues surrounding time than physical contact in non-monogamous relationships.  You need to be honest to yourself and your partner about where your limits are, and you need to be ready to change them as things change.

Figure out how safe is safe enough for you.
You can't make non-monogamy sound sexy all the time.  In fact, it's probably goo to have a conversation about worst-case scenarios to balance out all those best-case scenarios filling your fantasies. Time to talk about the bad things that can happen when nice things are happening. Good information about just how risky any one sex act is compared to another is pretty difficult, but do your research before you start this conversation.  

You don't need a lot of research to know that sexual contact can be a risky thing and that barriers to that contact can help make it less risky.  The more barriers, the less the risk.  Some people practice non-monogamy from within a latex fortress.  Dicks and toys need condoms, mouths need dental dams, hands need gloves.  Some simply eliminate acts with others that they aren't comfortable with.  Open Relationships can be lots of fun without pregnancy risks.  Hot sex can be hotter when there's no worry messing with your head.    

Many close partners (or close groups of partners) consider what's called "fluid bonding" at some point.  This means that barriers are used for any remotely risky behavior outside of those who are bonded, so they are less necessary inside the bonds.  

Talk about worst case scenarios.  Start some sentences with "what if...," and talk about the ramifications of things like pregnancy (if you're engaging in acts that may lead to it) and herpes (if you are doing anything more than holding someone's hand).  It's important to come up with an approach, or a bunch of rules or one big one that you both agree on and are comfortable with.  To do this, you can't just talk about best-cases.

Freak each other out.
Building trust and allowing mistakes before you get to this point in crucial.  Being good, honest communicators is the difference between this conversation being kinda fun or complete torture.  Still, it's best to test your rules while they're still hypothetical.  Name names, get specific, get ridiculous.  Find the lines of appropriate or not.

As you throw out scenario after scenario, you'll start to find you know the responses your partner will give before you say them.  That's because what you've been doing is really finding the boundaries of your relationship, building the walls around what's safe and fun and what's going to upset someone.  After hours of being creative and disturbing, you'll be ready for all those things you didn't think of that may pop up on a fourth or fifth date.  You'll understand what fits the idea of your relationship and what doesn't.  This conversation also helps avoid those, "well, we never specifically said we couldn't..." situations.

Keep an ear out for new ideas for the two of you.  You partner may (consciously or not) be revealing some long-restrained fantasies and hopes through this conversation.  This doesn't need to be all about other people.  Take some for yourself.

Extra Credit.
Be good to each other.  Spend time being with each other and appreciating each other.  Don't get so excited about other people that you forget the wonderful person you're already with.  The process of starting and maintaining an open relationship with honesty can create a remarkably powerful, loving, sexy, and adventurous relationship right at home.

Write the Author: John Stark

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Kidder Kaper

Kidder has been theorizing and writing about human sexuality since 1993, when he began work on his primary goal: "Teaching the world to be unafraid to enjoy sex."


Laura Rad

Laura Rad has been educating herself and others about sexuality for over seven years. You can find Laura every week chatting with the crew of the Sex is Fun Podcast.


Gay Rick

Gay Rick is an HIV Educator and Co-Host on the Sex is Fun podcast. He is also a certified Hepatitis C Educator.



The in-house audio engineer.


John Stark

John writes a blog titled We Sleep Together. He is in his twenties, and has been in an open relationship for six and some years.



The Walrus is an avid SIF listener, married, and recently became a proud father. He spends his days working in IT, but has always been interested in pushing the boundaries of traditional and conservative thoughts sexually.


Cooper Beckett

Cooper Beckett's life isn't like other people's. When he's not writing or podcasting at Life on the Swingset, he's living it up with his wife Marilyn as evangelical swingers, spreading the good word that "sharing is caring."


Beth Swings

Beth is an English rose, happily married and happily swinging in the UK and abroad. She has a full-time vanilla career which she loves. Beth counts sex and naturism among her many extra-curricular passions in life.


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Mari Rose and her family live in Colorado, love life and do their best to maintain balance and sanity and in this crazy, sexy, beautiful world.



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