In Defense of Open Relationships

Elliott Gordon wants to debunk the myths our society holds about open relationships.

As a man who has been in many different types of relationships with many different women, I hear a lot of bad mouthing about open relationships.

This negativity toward open relationships comes from average people as well as accredited psychologists and therapists. Most of these people share one thing in common: they’ve either never had an open relationship, or have tried one only to end up disappointed. (Side note: Monogamy has disappointed far more people than open relationships, but no one walks around saying that “monogamous relationships don’t work.”)

This negativity can be very discouraging for people who are interested in pursuing or exploring open relationships. Sure, these “myths” are true for some people in some situations, but for the most part they’re broad generalizations that limit people’s beliefs on what is possible.

I want to set the facts straight.

Myth #1:  People in open relationships get STDs because they sleep with too many people.

STDs are nothing to toy with. But nowadays, we understand more than ever about STDs. If you get tested regularly, are honest about your sexual history, and practice safe sex, the likelihood of you getting an STD is slim.

Our society continues to hold a very puritanical attitude toward sex. The interest groups that suppress sex in our society are not interested in your pleasure or emotional fulfillment; they are simply interested in furthering their agendas. When pursuing a relationship, consider your needs before following an arbitrary rule.

Myth #2:  Open relationships benefit men more than women.

This belief stems from the idea that contemporary society discourages women from having open relationships, yet tolerates men who have open relationships. When it comes right down to it, men and women want virtually the same things. Open relationships have just as much potential of providing love, sex, and fulfillment as monogamous relationships.

Myth #3:  Women agree to open relationships in hopes that the man who will commit to an exclusive relationship later on.

I once dated a woman where this was the case. It was so clear she wanted to be my girlfriend—yet she told me that she “was willing to do whatever I wanted.” Women, like anyone with a hidden agenda, are easy to spot. But even if they’re good at hiding their intentions, it’s important to communicate what you want upfront and at regular intervals.

Myth #4:  Open relationships aren’t real relationships.

You can have an open relationship that is as loving and as deep as a monogamous relationship. In some cases, I’ve had more meaningful connections with women I saw non-exclusively than I’ve had with women I saw exclusively. We often view “commitment” in today’s society as the “ultimate prize” of emotional fulfillment, but placing too much value or attention on someone can also smother intimacy—which best comes as a surprise.

Myth #5:  A man who is interested in being in an open relationship with a woman isn’t interested enough in the woman to commit fully.

This belief assumes there really are some people that don’t deserve a relationship. This is a scarcity mentality that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who believe it.  Instead, hold the belief that everyone is eligible, worthy, desirable, and deserving of a great relationship.  In reality, it doesn’t matter what type of relationship anyone pursues, because rewarding relationships are abundant.

Myth #6:  Women search for open relationships with men because they don’t feel like they’re worthy of being in a full relationship.

Like calling women “sluts,” this statement is a weapon people used to diminish women who pursue the types of relationships that they want. By judging them for deviating against a societal norm, they can feel morally superior in the face that these women are probably enjoying better relationships than they are.

Many of these myths come from the frame that monogamy is the best type of relationship that you can have. I neither believe that monogamy is the best type of relationship, nor do I think that an open relationship is a better type. No relationship conforms to one single formula, and there are as many types of relationships as there ARE relationships. All relationships take work to maintain, whether they are exclusive or nonexclusive, last a lifetime or last only one night, whether they are built on a foundation of deep love or merely casual. This is the truth of that society should be promoting.

—Photo laffy4k/Flickr

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About Elliott Gordon

Elliott Gordon is a dating expert from Washington DC. He is the owner of Authentic Online Dating Tips for Men, which can be found at www.wheretofindgirl.com. Search “ElliottGordonOnline” for his youtube channel, and follow him on twitter at Elliott_Gordon.

Comments

  1. Monogamy has disappointed far more people because that is what most people are (whether or not they want to be). If most people started to then try open relationships, most people would then be disappointed by open relationships. I feel like you’re taking a stab at monogamy when you claim that. I read articles like this with an open mind, but I still don’t understand open relationships and probably never will. Not that I’m going to deny anyone who is truly happy with this set up, but I just feel like, no matter how many justifications I read for them (and I have read a lot to try and understand them), that there is something inherently selfish about them, a ‘you can have your cake and eat it too’ mindset. Now I have no problem with polygamy because I do believe someone can love more than one person, but that is not the case with an open relationship, which is why I feel there is just something inherently selfish with them.

    • @Leslie: “Monogamy has disappointed far more people because that is what most people are”
      I’d say, “because that is what [most] people are conditioned to be”, legally, morally or otherwise. Monogamy is not much something “spontaneous”, otherwise there would not be the need to enforce it legally, or there wouldn’t be so much cheating and divorcing. Monogamy is, in part at least, a social construct people adhere to.

      @Leslie: “there is something inherently selfish about them”
      Oh please, this is hysterical! :lol:
      Any relationship has a selfish basis: you don’t choose (or marry) a guy to do him a favour :roll: you do it because it will make you happy (or you hope it will). Love come (eventually) later.
      You would never do it with a guy who’s giving you nothing at all – and nobody would.

      Polyamory or open relationships are just a different way to fulfill the same purpose: being in a relationship that’s nourishing each others’ need. Different people can have different ways.

  2. First off, I wouldn’t ever deny anyone who is truly happy with this type of relationship, but after reading so many justifactions for them and in general reading about success stories, I still don’t understand them, even while I have never believed the above myths about them. It is unlike polygamy where there is this belief that you can love more than one person–which I do believe is very possible. But I have always found there is something inherently selfish about open relationships, a sort of ‘have your cake and eat it too’ mentality. Granted, both partners are consenting, so that I have no problem with. It’s just the selfish aspect (I feel) that I can’t wrap my head around. Good if people can make it work, but I will never understand them.

    And I know monogamy is obviously not for everyone. I believe some people can be selfish with monogamy because there are those who know they can’t commit but marry due to societal expectations and only end up hurting his or her partner in the long run–now that IS selfish. But I’ve just always wondered what is the point of being in a committed relationship if the both of you are going to consent to having sexual relations with others, especially with the danger you might develop feelings for the person/people you’re having sexual relationships with? I know more than anyone that sex and love are not the same thing, but somewhere down the line, emotions are often impossible to separate from the actual sex itself. I have a hard time believing anyone can just remove themselves entirely from the act of sex. This is why I persnoally believe open relationships are inherently selfish. They say, “I’m going to love this one person (and I do believe those in open relationships do love their partners), while fulfilling my desires elsewhere if this person isn’t up to it or whatever…” It just sounds plain selfish to me.

    Maybe you can untangle all that for me because I haven’t found one person who has tried or been or likes open relationships who could. The ones who love them all tell me the same thing: Sex and love are not the same thing. But that tells me nothing in the end.

    • I agree. There are several things that bother me about the concept of open relationships, but the main one is the concept that you can compartmentalize people to meet your needs. You can think that someone (your partner) is worthy of your love, while other people are only there to satisfy you sexually. Open relationships typically don’t include dating (that’s more polyandry), so it’s more like just using other people to satisfy your sexual urges and then you go home to your partner for emotional satisfaction. I think that one of the reasons why more traditional relationships are so valuable is this idea that you take the whole person. I don’t think that i would be comfortable with someone who values only what they want from others.

      • @Wylee: “the concept that you can compartmentalize people to meet your needs”
        But that’s what everyone does: you choose the people in your life (consciously or not) because of your needs. You have friends for some needs, spouse for others, etc. We are picky about our partners, because we want the right one for our needs.
        Do you think you marry someone for altruism? :roll:

        @Wylee: “more traditional relationships are so valuable is this idea that you take the whole person.”
        Yeah, sure. IN THEORY.
        Then, so many people cheats and/or divorces. Why? Because their needs weren’t satisfied, that “whole person” wasn’t “wholly satisfying”.
        That idea it’s a good idea, but often it doesn’t work.
        That’s precisely why alternative form of relationships make perfect sense: because there’s no “one relationship” fits all (or, all the times).

        That’s the problem with stereotypes: people like you praise traditional relationships, but “forget” their limitations and failures.

        • First of all, stop it with the eye rolls. You’re being very childish and disrespectful to the people leaving comments.

          To answer your comments, no I do not think that most people marry for altruistic reasons. But, there’s a huge gap between altruism and compartmentalizing people. Most people value relationships because it’s something that people create together.

          Here’s an example. Let’s think of relationships as a conversation. I think that everyone would agree that there’s a difference between people who are actually conversing and people who are just waiting to talk. Talking to someone because you get pleasure out of talking is different than actually having a conversation. In an actual conversation, you’re there not just for your benefit or just for the other person’s benefit (altruism), but rather because what you can discuss together is worth more than what you or they could think about alone. It’s about the exchange that happens. It’s the idea that life is worth more than the sum of its parts. That’s what I think is missing from open relationships. There so much emphasis on sexual satisfaction and so little on creating something.

          And concerning divorces, your point isn’t a very good one. I never said that people who wants traditional relationships are always good at them. Not everyone is capable. But, if that’s what you want, it’s worth trying for.

          “That’s the problem with stereotypes: people like you praise traditional relationships, but “forget” their limitations and failures.”
          Don’t talk about “people like me” because you don’t know me. I know all about the limitations and failures of traditional relationships. And I try anyway. It seems that you are forgetting the limitations and failures of open relationships – and there are plenty.

          • Valter Viglietti says:

            @Wylee: “stop it with the eye rolls”
            Aw, dad, did I upset you? Will you spank me? ;)
            I might have been mocking, but you have been patronising; what’s less respectful? :roll:
            (my point: frown less, laugh more)

            @Wylee: “It’s about the exchange that happens.”
            It’s a very good point. I agree.

            Regarding the rest, is true I don’t know you, but I read what you wrote, and you wrote common stereotypes: traditional relationships are the only good way, open relationships are rubbish, etc.
            OTOH, I never said open r. are without limitations (nor the author did). Your attitude was black&white (this AGAINST that), my attitude was “colourful” (different chances, for different people and needs, and they’re all ok as long as they work).

  3. Anthony Zarat says:

    The stigma against open relationships has nothing to do with individual morality. Obviously, basic principles of liberty demand that consenting adults who hurt nobody else should (morally) be free to do as they please.

    However, I believe that there is a practical collective imperative that makes acceptance of open relationships very unwise. I have no direct evidence to support this claim. I do not even have a clear understanding of the mechanism by which a society may implode if the percentage of open relationships becomes too large.

    However, historically when societies stray from the monogamous family-unit model, these societies first weaken and then crumble.

    As an MRA, I have an interest in precipitating the end of the current age of misandry. Consequently, I support open relationships. I hope to achieve a soft-landing with broad social acceptance that no society can flourish when people define themselves by individual privilege instead of collective duty.

    Feminism has freed women from all collective and individual responsibility towards men and society.
    The MRM will free men from all collective and individual responsibility towards women and society.

    The end will follow soon after, making room for a new beginning.

    • wellokaythen says:

      “However, historically when societies stray from the monogamous family-unit model, these societies first weaken and then crumble.”

      As a historian, I am fascinated by this particular historical thesis. Can you please describe this in more depth and provide some examples?

      Also, I’m curious if straying from the monogamous family unit is the major cause of decline in these cases, or if it is a sign of decadence, or something else. When these societies crumble, are they then replaced by more monogamous, family-oriented ones?

      • Anthony Zarat says:

        The oldest thesis about this is probably Edward Gibbons 1788 book “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. It describes five historical causes of societal collapse — the first of which is “the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis for human society.”

        • wet_suit_one says:

          I think we could live with monogamy as it was practiced in Rome if that’s your point Zarat. I think one episode of Spartacus Blood and Sand would disabuse most of us of the idea that Roman “monogamy” is anything that we would recognize. I’m reasonably sure that Rome is a poor example of what you mean. After all, a Roman home was one where the pater familias could have sex with any slave he chose, go to brothels, and so on and so on, but the wife could do none of these things (except maybe sex with male slaves, though I rather doubt that). Having studied a bit of Rome, a better explanation would be that Rome fell because it stopped making war effectively enough and ceased conquering.

          But what do I know about anything after all? I just took the course in school…

        • wellokaythen says:

          Gibbon gives a pretty thorough account, though he is certainly not the final word on the fall of the Roman Empire. (He’s talking about the western empire.) His work is as much a polemic as it is a work of history, and it’s written before there were any professional historians.

          Gibbon also blames Christianity for undermining the strength and stability of the empire. He generally sees the growing acceptance of Christianity as a set of very bad decisions. Perhaps that’s also the lesson we are supposed to apply to current society?

          I’m trying hard to reconcile this theory with the stunning success of polygamous dynasties over the past few millennia. Saudi Arabia has been polygamous even before Islam appeared, and if it’s crumbling it’s taking a loooooong time to collapse.

        • I couldn’t disagree more. Morals have nothing to do with the success of society, and who say’s having an open relationship is immoral?

    • @Anthony Zarat: “a society may implode if the percentage of open relationships becomes too large”

      Oh, please. People has had fears like that since forever. Every time a society changes, someone freak out and forecast the sky would fall. :roll:
      Of course, it never happens. People changes, they learn, society evolves, and everything goes on. Maybe sombody gets hurt on the way but, hey!, you can’t make everybody happy: many people were pissed off by the end of slavery, the feminism, the end of racial segregation… but that’s no reason against those changes.

      During the 60s and 70s and the “sex liberation” period, many feared the end of society. 50 years later, Anthony here has the same kind of fear: let people follow their desire, and society will go upside down. :roll:

      I’d like to remind you that ancient Greeks used to be pedophiles: they enjoyed very much the company (also sexual) of beautiful, young boys. This was true for many men, even married ones.
      Despite this, they were the most advanced and civilized society of the time; a foundation from which the whole Western civilization evolved.

      So, relax: sex and relationships has never ruined any society, as far as we know. :)
      OTOH, religions and power struggles has been the ruin of more than an empire. I would fear those. ;)

    • “However, historically when societies stray from the monogamous family-unit model, these societies first weaken and then crumble.”

      Well as an archaeologist I’d have to say, no to that. As far as I am aware, the majority of cultures in the past aren’t even built around a monogamous family unit. Some form of polygamy seems to be the norm.

  4. One of the strains in any intimate relationship, whether exclusive or not, is putting too much pressure on that relationship to make one happy.

    I generally think of myself as sex positive, but I also think there are many people who expect too much from their sexual relationships, in terms of complete individual fulfillment. Sex can be great, even transcendent, but to expect a particular kind of relationship to unlock everything is to be unrealistic. I’m not saying the author is saying this, just that monogamy and polyamory can both have unrealistic expectations about what you will get out of them.

    It’s possible that some monogamous relationships and some poly ones fail for some of the same reasons. One doesn’t necessarily avoid all the challenges of the other. I have an impression that some people explore polyamory because they think that because their monogamous relationships didn’t work out, then polyamory could be solution, when the issue could be something that is independent of the number of partners. It could be expectations that no number of other human beings could actually meet.

    There will be no perfect sexual relationship that makes one’s life complete or that completes you as a person, whether it’s celibacy, monogamy, or polyamory. Polyamory may be the best choice for a person at a particular moment, but none of these choices is the magic pill.

    Personally, I prefer to disappoint one woman at a time. I suppose it would be more efficient and interesting to disappoint multiple partners simultaneously, but I’m not sure I could handle that… : – )

    • @That Guy: “putting too much pressure on that relationship to make one happy”

      I agree. But this is especially true in monogamous couples, where one person carries the whole burden.
      OTOH, in open or polyamory couples, you can find satisfaction somewhere else.

      After all, aren’t the many cheaters all around seeking for something “more”? And they are in big numbers!
      Wouldn’t it be much more honest, then, for them admitting their needs and talking about a solution that doesn’t involve lying and hiding?

      I agree with the author: there’s no “best” kind of relationships. It’s kinda like ice cream, different tastes for different people.
      You may prefer vanilla your whole life, and that’s fine. Or, maybe, you’ll be eager to try chocolate one day. Or you like to mix coconut and hazelnut (yummi!). :D

      The only true mistake is believing there’s only one right kind of ice cream, and you have to stick with it your whole life. :|
      That sounds like the Soviet communism applied to relationships: a good intention that never really worked. ;)

  5. As the author of this post, I don’t advocate one type of relationship over the other. My aim of the article is to invite people to consider alternative types of relationships. Both men and experience guilt and shame when it comes to sex and relationships. They may wish to explore other options, but don’t because society discourages them. In fact, you can have an open or polyamorous relationship with integrity.

    My article addresses the most common statements people to disqualify open relationships. The statements, which perhaps reflects the negative experience of the people saying it, are not objective. Furthermore, for many people who have an open mind toward alternative relationships but are still “undecided,” hearing statements like the ones I mention (often said with much authority from the speaker) shuts down their willingness in fear of proselytization and their own inner shame. In truth, no statement judging any type of relationship is truly objective, because every relationship is different.

    Because of the lack of openness that there are different types of relationships out there, people continue to pursue the same types of relationships that may not be ideal for them.

    Open relationships are not the solution. The solution is being open to whatever type of relationship works best for you and your partner(s).

  6. I tried open relationships but those didn’t work for me. In my personal situations, one partner liked the other more and for lack of better words, didn’t actually want to share the other person. And no, it wasn’t always I, to remove the thought of the stereotypical needy female.

    For those that open relationships work for, good on you, but they aren’t for me.

  7. Open relationships are houses of cards which can disintegrate at even a slight disturbance. In a monogamous relationship both partners own sexuality of each other and any violation of ownership is not tolerated. When the relationships are opened, partner’s sexuality is not exclusive and the interest of other partner falls leading to destruction of relationship.

    • @Rapses: “In a monogamous relationship both partners own sexuality of each other”

      So, my partner own my genitalia, the exclusive access to it, and any kind of use related? :shock:
      Now that’s true love! And selfless too!!! :mrgreen:
      Where did I put my chastity belt…? ;)

      I understand the need to possess the partner. But it’s out of fear of being hurt, thus is a selfish motive, and has nothing to do with love.
      Love is about making the other happy. Possess is about protecting myself and my needs. They are quite opposite.

      • Love is the most used, abused and rarely understood term. Sexual exclusivity is the essence of romantic relationship, whether it is selfless or selfish. Nobody cares about the things that one does not posses. The word “my” associated with anything gives it more importance in the eye of subject like my house, my car, my brother etc,

        • wellokaythen says:

          Rapses’ argument is not incompatible with open relationships. Okay, let’s say my partner owns my sexuality like she owns her car. That means she can give her permission for someone else to borrow it or use it, just like a car. She doesn’t stop owning it just because she lets someone else drive it….

          The “my” part can be a little ambiguous. More than one person can call a house “my house.” I am one of three siblings — my siblings can both refer to me as “my brother.”

        • I was going to go into how messed up it is to talk about a romantic relationship in terms of possession, but I think wellokaythen made a better argument.

    • Terms like “possession” and “ownership” really make monogamy sound appealing. I think I’ll pass.

  8. Julie Gillis says:

    Elliott, thank you for this piece. I hope later to have some comments to add. Such interesting dialogue already!

  9. I think it’s a bit of a shame that the majority of these comments are calling open relationships ‘selfish’ or ‘unstable,’ and suggesting that monogamy is the best type of relationship. The point of this article was to debunk some of the myths with open relationships and to point out that no type of relationship fits everyone.

    I’d like to add one more myth: that it will harm your kids. I will state up front that I am not a psychologist, but I do not think that an open relationship will harm your children. I think having an affair can mess up your kids if they find out about it, because an affair is dishonest and a betrayal. An open relationship, however, is neither of those things.

    Oo, now that’s what I want to see on television. A family in an open relationship that’s actually healthy and working out alright.

  10. Also:

    To the people saying they think it’s selfish and they don’t understand how you can have a relationship where you are emotionally involved with one person and just sexually involved with another, I’d like to point something out. In a monogamous relationships, the chances are high that you and your partner will have different sex drives and different sexual desires. What you like and how often you like it might be quite different from your partner. So what do you do? You can either both decide that you will compromise, because you made a commitment to each other. Or you can both decide that you’re alright with fulfilling your sexual needs elsewhere. Each option is equally valid, I think. But neither option works for everyone.

  11. In the modern times it has become fashionable to condemn the traditional values. There is a saying that “when you ride two horses, you eventually fall down.” Open relationship is like riding two horses at the same time always resulting in falling down.

    • Well hey, polygamy is a traditional value. Surely polygamy is like riding two horses, always resulting in falling down. Not to mention, in an open relationship, you aren’t necessarily riding two horses at the same time, if you know what I mean. *wink, wink*

      Okay that was a juvenile comment, but I couldn’t resist. Point is, that analogy doesn’t work. As Valter said, you can fall off of just one horse too. And really an open relationship is like having two horses, but sometimes riding one, and sometimes riding the other.

      As for it becoming fashionable to condemn traditional values. Really, there is often a tendency for a section of a younger generation to rebel against their parent’s generation. This can be seen in multiple cultures across the world. With the internet, and the youth-culture of our society, perhaps this trend of rebelling against tradition has become more common, but it’s hardly new. Tradition has value, sure, but if no one challenged it, nothing would ever happen, and that’s just boring.

      • Beware of the green monster (jealousy). If you wake it up, it would destroy any relation, however, strong it might have once been. It takes lot of effort and goodwill to build a relation which can get destroyed very easily

  12. Valter Viglietti says:

    @Rapses: “when you ride two horses, you eventually fall down.”

    You can ride just one horse and fall down nevertheless. 8)

  13. Leroy Joseph says:

    I love my wife more that I have ever loved anyone. Her and I are considering bringing another man into our sexual relationship. We both trust him and have know him for a long time. We intend it in a respectful and loving way. I have no fear of her running off with him, it is no going to happen even though they have loved each other for years. Bedsides the fact that I will be happy for the pleasure it will bring her and him, I would like her to have a lover as my health is not that good and if something happens to me, I don’t want her to be alone. I have no desire for any other woman in my life sexually or romantically, my wife fulfills all of my needs, but like all things, that could change and perhaps at some point, I too might take on another lover. That is what makes life interesting.

  14. All of the myths you wrote down aren’t really myths as much as they are just common occurrences. The myth is really just a logical fallacy, that if someone is in or wants an open relationship one of those myths has to be true. And, of course, that isn’t true.

    That being said, I’ve yet to meet someone who’s been in an open relationship without any of those myths being true.

  15. It is very interesting if you look at the statistics, that almost everywhere you look, it gives 6% as the percentage of couples in the US who have some kind of open marriage and also states that this number has been stable for the past two decades. But when you look at the *study that was done, the 6% were only the respondents who in the past year admitted to actually having sex outside of their marriage with their spouses consent. But the number of respondents who said they gave their spouse permission to have sex outside of their marriage was closer to 25%. The sample size was 7,000 married people; about half men and half women and the answers between men and women were pretty much the same within one or two percentage points. These figures would seem to indicate that about 1 in every 4 marriages is open in the sense that there is an agreement in place allowing for sex outside of the marriage. The fact that only a quarter of these couples actually are sexually active outside of their marriages in a given year is misleading. It would be more accurate I think to say that about 25% of marriages in the US are open marriages and that of these, about a quarter of them are actively engaged in extra-marital sex in any given year.

    I found these numbers surprising, but refreshing.

    If you add this to the number of so called monogamous couples cheating behind each others backs, it would seem to indicate that the number of true monogamous marriages is definitely in the minority.

    *American Couples: Money, Work, Sex
    by Philip Blumstein, Pepper Schwartz

  16. This is the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of shit.

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