What sex restrictions are reasonable and when?
Growing up I wanted monogamy because anything else was “not real love”. I didn’t want anything that wasn’t authentic. As a high school girl I started discovering my sexuality, my body, and what turned me on. I started watching porn and was surprisingly turned on by girl-on-girl scenes.
My senior year I met my current partner (a man). However, we started with problems because he couldn’t really commit to me. I wanted monogamy. As time progressed we grew, explored new ideas, and shared them together. By our second year I wasn’t jealous anymore. I figured, if I’m turned on by girls, why can’t he be? I started separating sex and love and was even turned on by him being with other girls.
Fast forward to the present. We have been together four years+. I do not want/get turned on by other men. I only want him (not because I’m trying to be monogamous, I simply just really only want him) However, I do enjoy the company of other women, sexually and what not. So on my end, I’m exclusive to him emotionally but do enjoy other women sexually (thus far haven’t “Loved” any) so I call myself hetereoflexible. On his end, he is emotionally exclusive to me but does hook up occasionally with other women (he is fully straight).
Now, the issue at hand: I love him, we want to get married and have kids, but I can’t see how we can work out long term and have a family and accomplish our goals if we are in an open relationship, if that’s what this is even called. Recently we argued because he went on an overseas business trip and I asked him not to hook up with other women during the trip. I feel that if it’s just sexual then he should stop when I tell him to. It’s no big deal to him, so he agreed.
So can we be in a committed relationship, get married, have kids, and be open sexually to other people? I’m asking not because I’m jealous but because I’m scared. I’m scared that it won’t work out. I’m scared of STIs. Of someone falling for him and causing problems with me. I’m scared of him getting another girl pregnant. I’m scared of the consequences of him hooking up with others. I’m not scared about him being in love with other people, we are emotionally exclusive on both ends not just mine. We are not polyamorous. We love each other but separate love and sex.
I know I cannot ask him to not hook up with other people. Even if he says it’s no big deal, I know I am suppressing his nature. He told me if I wanted him to be monogamous he would try it because he is not going to trade a future with me for multiple sexual encounters. But it’s more than that. I know he won’t be fully happy because he gets turned on by other girls – as do I. He would be suppressing his sexual nature for me and that’s not okay. As for me, being with other girls occasionally is no big deal. I could do without, naturally.
What’s your advice?
Thanks for taking time out from international hacktivism to write us, Anonymous. Hope we can give you some helpful insight.
The first things I noticed were all the good things you have. You’re happy with your long-term partner with whom you’ve developed a history of love, mutual exploration, and trust. You recognize what you are, and what you’re not (kudos on understanding the difference between polyamory and other forms of ethical nonmonogamy!). You’re also asking very reasonable, normal questions regarding your relationship fears, which is a great sign you’ll be able to communicate and resolve those fears in a healthy way. You’re in much better shape than most people who write us!
I think your problems mostly stem from inexperience, which luckily is very treatable 🙂 I do wish people like yourself had more sex-positive role models and resources available. You shouldn’t have to write in to an advice column to learn there are thousands of people in successful committed lifelong ethically open relationships, many with children and grandchildren. You can have a family and reach your goals, no matter what your relationship looks like.
My bigger area of concern is your assumption that your partner would welcome your telling him to stop having sex with someone – or not start – because it’s “just sex.” But the concept of “just sex” – which you seem to suggest is no more meaningful than masturbation with another person’s body – is a myth. The process of getting to know someone intimately enough to get them to sleep with you outside of a sex party or truly anonymous rendezvous involves SOME degree of emotional investment by your partner, both in the resources expended in the hookup process and the actual connection being developed with the new partner. It would be inhuman of him not to have some emotional connection with the third party; would you want your partner to be seen as a cruel, heartless person who only wants to get laid and doesn’t care about the other person at all? Since I’m pretty sure your answer is “no”, your agreement to be emotionally monogamous REALLY means that he can explore new connections but it is up to him to restrict his emotional exposure beyond a certain point. Where that point lies, brings us to your core question: How much is it “okay” to restrict our partners?
You say it’s not ok for you to ask him not to hook up with other people or repress his sexual nature, yet it’s exactly what you’ve done. He clearly values your relationship over others he may have, even to the extent of offering to sacrifice his own needs and desires in order to make you feel special. But rather than both of you sacrificing yourselves for the other like Gift of the Magi (each giving up something special to benefit the thing your partner holds special), you should focus instead on finding ways to give each of you as much of what you want as possible! You don’t really want him to not be with others sexually, you just have reasonable fears about what that might lead to. So instead of telling him what he can’t do, discuss your concerns and see if the two of you can reach agreements and plan shared experiences which take those into consideration while letting him feel unrestricted in important ways. For example, a basic agreement might be “no hooking up while we’re apart,” but if you’re really only worried about issues like safe sex and people coming between you, a better agreement which respects his agency might be “safe sex for all encounters and third parties must acknowledge our relationship’s primacy,” then make sure you define “safe sex” and what an acknowledgement looks like.
Once you and he are on the same page re: each other’s needs and fears, you’ll realize you were letting your fears get in the way of the amazing happiness that comes with mutual freedom and true authenticity. Mischa, what’s your take?
Hi Anonymous! Leon definitely hits all the technical points that pertain to your situation and I agree with everything he’s saying. But if it’s TL;DR for you, my two cents worth of free advice is this:
As Leon points out, most of your fears stem from the fact that you personally haven’t seen many long-term, ethically non-monogamous relationships flourish. Joining a local community of like-minded people may help to change that – there are new ones popping up all the time. On the other hand, you’ve probably seen plenty of monogamous relationships succeed – and fail. Kudos to you for trying a different path than forcing monogamy when it doesn’t fit your vision of lasting happiness.
Talk to your partner about your fears. You may find he has some of the same fears you do, and sharing them openly will make them easier to face. Don’t shy away from talking about the things you don’t think will happen – what if he does fall in love with someone else, but still loves you? Is that a deal breaker for you, even if you have children at some point in the future? What if you’re the one who falls in love? Life can sometimes take unexpected turns and to paraphrase Louis Pasteur, Fortune favors the prepared relationship.
The only other thing I’d add is that if you come up with relationship agreements, acknowledge that your relationship will change over time and build in a schedule to revisit them periodically. Maybe quarterly or bi-annually for the first year or two, then annually after that. Make it part of your relationship anniversary, as a celebration of the unique and enduring love that the two of you are creating together.