Are you open? An exploration of open relationships
“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” – Frank Zappa
I have been fascinated with open relationships for more than 10 years. Africa is not traditionally monogamous and is no stranger to polyamory (loving more than one person at a time). Our own ‘prez’ has 4 wives and has been married six times. Initially I believed open relationships to be wrong, dangerous and not for me. I even went so far as to end a relationship with a man I cared for, because he suggested we try it (I believed that his suggestion was a covert way of telling me -a green twenty-something at the time- that I was not enough for him).
“The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.”- Albert Einstein
Since then, after observing a number of my friends in happy long-term open relationships, I have become more open minded. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen a few relationships become casualties to “opening up”, but I have also seen just as many relationships break a heel on the disco floor, for other reasons too. I am a curious “poof” so I conducted a social (media) experiment. I invited any of my friends on Facebook to inbox me and share their views on this spicy topic. By the next morning my inbox was jam-packed with a rainbow flag of views and testimonials! I will share a few with you BUT I wont mention their names -to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.
“Open relationships are for people who want too much variety in their lives. They want to have their “koek” and eat it, and I have never been one for “koek!” said one of the testimonials I received and “Opening our relationship was the best thing we ever did. No need to lie and cheat. We are so happy and still madly in love!” was another perspective.
A student in her twenties proposed that a couple she knows managed to maintain a long distance relationship, only because they had an open relationship whilst they were apart. She said that they could fulfill one another’s emotional needs over great distance, but would turn to others to fulfill their “other” needs until they were reunited. This seemed to work for them.
A few guys in open relationships seemed to share many of the same views. All who inboxed me felt that condoms were essential if any penetration was to take place, but that most “encounters” mostly involved mutual-masturbation and oral sex.
They all employed strict ground rules that they both agreed on, before engaging in any sexual acts with a third (or more) party, and all of them stressed the importance of honesty and communication. In fact, every person that messaged me advocating open relationships stressed this as being vital for a successful open relationship. They also all agreed that love and sex are not mutually exclusive and that it is “natural” to want to explore and express their sexuality outside the confines of a monogamous relationship. Some couples believed that sex outside of the relationship should be spontaneous and unplanned; whereas others believed planning was essential. One man stressed the importance of using his intuition and avoiding bringing “broken” or “emotionally unstable” people into his relationship. Several of the couples have been together for more than five years and claim to be happy in their relationships. I also received messages from two individuals who were in a “throuple” (a romantic relationship between three people). They were from different “throuples&rdqrdquo; but also stressed communication, honesty and trust as being critical to the success of their relationships.
“The only part about open relationships that I understand is that you open the door and leave.” – Anonymous
A few couples were in exclusively monogamous long-term relationships and claimed that their relationships were successful because there were fewer “complications”. They believed that open relationships resulted in “jealousy and heartache” and that they were a “health risk”.
One guy stated that if he were in an open relationship, his partner would eventually leave him for someone “younger, richer and/or prettier”.
“By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” – Richard Dawkins
Got the T-Shirt
A number of testimonials came from peeps who had experienced open relationships and regretted having them due to resulting insecurities, from one or both parties in the relationship and also due to one of them developing deep emotional bonds with a person outside of their relationship, causing it to end. A few spoke of incredible heartache and even depression as a result of their relationship failing and the loss of their partner.
Due to the huge variety of opinions I received it became clear to me that open relationships work for some people and not for others. As denizens of a diverse culture and society we owe it to ourselves to practice tolerance and respect for the way that others choose to live. Despite being irreligious, I am reminded of how deeply touched I was to see pictures on the net of Christians protecting Muslims as they prayed and Muslims protecting Christians as they worshipped, during times of war in the East. I found this empathy and elevation of tolerance quite profound. I’m not sure if I will ever engage in an open relationship, but I will defend anyone’s right to do so if they wish because what makes a happy me may not be the same for the next dude.
Open vs Cheating
People in open relationships are less likely to get an STI than those in monogamous couples who just step out on their partners, according to a study published in current issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
A survey from the University of Michigan’s psychology department found that of 1,647 respondents, 801 had sex with someone other than their primary partner. For 493 subjects, it was part of a “negotiated non-monogamous relationship” while 308 admitted that they had just been unfaithful.
Researchers found that condom use was less frequent for vaginal (27% lower) and anal sex (35% lower) in encounters where one of the participants was creepin’ around. The data also revealed that drug and alcohol use was 64% higher during these hook-ups. (No shock there).
Enjoying a sexually active, open relationship (sex with multiple partners) can still put you at risk to HIV and other STIs if you’re not careful and informed. Many people are carriers of STIs but show no symptoms or may not be aware that they have an STI.
· Unprotected anal sexputs you at risk of HIV, HPV, Herpes, Hepatitis B/C, Gonorrhoea, Chlamydia and Syphilis
· Oral sexcan result in genital Herpes, Gonorrhoea of the throat, Hepatitis B, HPV, Syphilis and Chlamydia
· Kissingcan put you at risk of oral Herpes, Hepatitis, HPV warts (in your mouth), Glandular Fever, and in rare cases bacterial Meningitis
· Being naked with another person can even expose you to Crabs (pubic lice) and Scabies (contagious skin disease)
So it would be best to educate yourself and your partner on these risk factors before you decide to start an open relationship and also to aim for quality encounters rather than a quantity.
Bruce J. Little is a contributing writer for Health4Men, a project of the Anova Health Institute NPC, funded by USAID through PEPFAR. This article represents Bruce’s personal views.