Why an open relationship might be right for you

Written by:

Winston Lam

Winston Lam

Winston is a psychologist who is passionate about the underlying mechanisms that influence social interactions, human behaviour, and self improvement.

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The very nature of gay relationships means that they do not have to follow heteronormative constructs, which includes monogamy, one that stems from economic and religious origins.

Because of this, there is a whole spectrum of non-monogamous gay relationships out there. And I want to explain how that is a good thing, from a psychological perspective.

I want to make a case to support open relationships, using arguments based on psychological findings, and similarly show how common reasons for monogamous relationships are not as valid as people think they are.

The ethical concerns of whether being non-monogamous is morally acceptable is not discussed here because that is not the point of this article and also, I find the answer to that pretty obvious.

Sex itself is intrinsically amoral. The evolutionary reason people find promiscuity wrong is that in the past, people who have sex with many others are more likely to contract diseases.

This physical “dirtiness” later on translated into a moral one. Not only is this a moral bias, protection means like condoms, Prep and treatments for other STIs mean that this evolutionary concern no longer holds.

The point is, slut-shaming is outdated and unreasonable. It is perfectly okay to have sex with as many people as you want.

What the evidence is saying

The Couples Study done by Blake Spears and Lanz Lowen found that 47% of the relationships  in their sample were open, 45% monogamous, and the rest 8% being unsure. Along with other studies, a positive correlation has been found between relationship age and non-monogamy among gay couples.

I do not think it necessarily means that open relationships last longer. It more likely means that couples go from monogamous to open relationships the longer they stay together. Most importantly, many studies have found that psychological well being, relationship strength and satisfaction of open couples are similar to those of monogamous couples, if not more.

Evolutionary studies also showed that humans are meant to be promiscuous, particularly men. And there is nothing wrong with that. Psychologists consider sex a basic human need, right next to food and sleep. We need it. A fulfilled sex life is important. An active sex life over adulthood is strongly associated with greater happiness and better physical health.

It is very likely that future trends of relationships will shift in further favor of openness. One of the biggest psychological breakthroughs this generation have is the realisation that sex is not love and love is not sex. Yes they may be correlated, but they are not synonymous. If you believe your sexual needs would be more satisfied if you have more than 1 sexual partner, you are still capable and deserving of a loving relationship.

The concerns for going open

There are 2 very common concerns I hear from people who are resistant against open relationships. And here is why neither of them makes a good reason:

1. “What if they fall in love with someone else they have sex with?”

If that ever happens, the foundation and quality of your relationship was not strong to begin with, for him to fall out of love with you that easily. He likely would have eventually still left you for someone else even if the relationship was monogamous.

Also, a relationship model where your boyfriend’s exposure to other potential partners is restricted to minimise risk of him leaving you is not a healthy model. It is not unlike the stereotypical crazy girlfriends that we sometimes hear about who would not let their boyfriends hang out with other girls. Furthermore, love is not a limited resource, it is a chemical reaction (that does not diminish its meaning nor does it mean that love is an illusion). It can happen endlessly, which means that we are capable of loving as many people, as much as we want. He having affection for someone else does not mean he now has less for you.

2. “It makes me jealous.”

Yes, the jealousy problem. Jealousy is much like neediness, in the sense that you feeling it does not mean that it is your partner’s responsibility to do something about it. If you are a naturally needy person, your partner should do anything but give you more attention whenever you want it. That would only reinforce the insecurity and likely sustain it in the future.

Same for jealousy.

It is up to you to sit with the feeling and process through it, with your partner’s help through communication. Controlling your partner from fulfilling their needs and having their autonomy is not the answer. I can assure you even open couples face this problem from time to time, yet that does not stop them from being open. What differs for them is the way they approach this unpleasant yet natural emotion.

So, I should not have a monogamous relationship?

I am not saying that monogamy is always bad. It really depends on your reasons behind it. If your motive for monogamy is because you think open relationships do not work, or that they are lustful and therefore bad, I hope you give it another thought after this short read.

Monogamy should stem from a true desire to only have sex with your partner, not from a place of control or fear. This decision should also be a joint one, made after honest communication between you and your partner. A couple that cannot agree on the kind of relationships they want will have a difficult time pulling the relationship off, not just because of the sex, but also the difference in ideologies and beliefs.

It also has to be consensual. You can choose to be monogamous to your partner but you can’t make your partner monogamous to you.

This article is not trying to encourage everyone to have an open relationship. What it is encouraging though, is for you to find the kind of relationship that truly works for both you and your partner, and for you to see the merits of a freeing relationship.

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