For so long, society has dictated that there is one way to have a relationship, and it is usually heterosexual and monogamous. While there are so many reasons to be in a monogamous relationship, there are also several reasons to open it up, and many couples are choosing to do things a different way.
Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM) is a way of opening up a relationship in an honest, respectful, and consenting way. But what exactly does it entail? And what do you need to consider when thinking about opening up a relationship?
In this episode, I’m giving you a short introduction to ethical non-monogamy and sharing some important aspects to discuss if you are considering opening up your relationship. Hear some of the many reasons people choose to engage in this type of relationship, some examples of what it can look like, and one main reason you should never open up your relationship.
You are listening to The Midlife Sex Coach for Women™ Podcast episode 89.
Welcome to The Midlife Sex Coach for Women™ Podcast, the only show that combines a fun personality, medical knowledge, sexual counseling, and life coaching together. To create unique sex coaching that helps busy women awaken their libidos, address intimacy issues, and learn how to express their sexuality for the rest of their days. Here is your host, certified life coach and sexual counselor, Dr. Sonia Wright.
Hello, hello, hello Diamonds. Welcome to the podcast episode 89. I cannot believe it. We have been together for more than a year and a half. Seriously. That is so amazing. Well, life here continues to be just grand, just living the midlife life in the Midwest, it’s all about being in the middle. So, the warm weather has arrived in Minnesota. I just thought you’d all like to know that.
We are consistently above 50 degrees in the morning and in the afternoon it’s in the 60s and 70s right now. And actually, during the summer it gets pretty warm. People think that we’re freezing cold all year long but that’s not true. It actually gets warm during the summer, it’s just a pretty short summer and fall tends to be about six weeks and spring also tends to be about six weeks. It’s really, really short. And we’re still kind of in the spring even though summer is about to be here in a hot minute.
Okay, so it really is one of my favorite times of the year. And I’ve been making plans for the traveling in the summer. So, Julian graduates in June from Stanford with his bachelor’s and his master’s degree. And you know that I’m going to be right there cheering him on.
And then later on in the summer I’m going to be taking a 10 year old daughter, baby girl, we call her baby girl but she’s also known as Jamie on a road trip to see Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia. And it is her dream to attend Spellman College. It’s the top college for Black women and it really graduates some amazing women, just amazing rockstars. And so, we’re excited for her. Of course, she’s 10 years old so she can decide where she wants to go when the time comes but right now she’s like, “Mommy, my dream is to go to Spellman.” So, we’re going to encourage that dream.
And we’re going to visit Spellman so we can nourish and encourage her dream. So being a parent is all about supporting and actively nurturing the dreams of your children. And I remember when Jules was 10 years old and we started talking to him about Stanford University and now he’s graduating. So, I can see how talking to Jamie at 10 about Spellman College could possibly lead to her graduating in another 12 years from now.
So being supportive and nurturing dreams is also a big part of any relationship and definitely a relationship or a partnership. But what do you do when your partner comes to you with thoughts and ideas that you’re not expecting to deal with? Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring partners’ unexpected requests and interests. And we’ll be diving deep into some areas.
So up first is the request for opening up the relationship. So, what happens when you get an unexpected request for ethical non-monogamy? Well, first of all what exactly is ethical non-monogamy? Also known as ENM, and what does it mean to open up a relationship? So, when we’re talking about consensual or ethical non-monogamy, it’s a practice of people in a relationship consenting to engaging in sexual and/or emotional intimate relationships with others.
The important aspect is the explicit knowledge and approval of all parties involved which distinguishes it from having an affair, which does not usually involve knowledge or consent. So ENM is an umbrella term and it can involve many different relationship structures. Very many intimate experiences somebody might say. It could be anything from a one night stand.
Maybe you get a hall pass from your partner if a celebrity ever comes, if The Rock or Jason Momoa or somebody ever comes your way and gives you a proposition. Maybe you’ve talked to your partner ahead of time and been like, “Hey, can I get a hall pass just in case something unexpected happens then I don’t have to check-in with you ahead of time? So maybe you have the celebrity hall pass. Maybe we’re talking about swinging.
Maybe it’s a matter where people get together periodically to engage in some sexual intimacy without the emotional intimacy, even though there can be friendships that are formed over longstanding. And then it can transition to other things as well. Or maybe it’s just a hookup or a one night stand. Maybe we’re talking about friends with benefits where you would consistently go and see a person and have some sexual intimacy with them.
Or it could go into polyamory. And polyamory involves many loves. So, in addition to – well, polyamory is focused more on the loving connections. There may be sex involved or may not be sexual in nature but there is a loving intimate concept or a part of the relationship.
And then it could go to relationship anarchy. And with relationship anarchy there’s no such thing as hierarchy in relationships. One relationship is not primary over another. So, in that case the relationship with your partner may not be primary to another relationship or a friendship is not less than a relationship that has sexual intimacy involved in it. So, it’s all different types of relationships are important, all different types of connections are equally important and it’s not specifically one type versus another.
We can talk more about that if people have questions about all the different types. But generally, society has said that there’s only one way to have a relationship which is monogamous and usually also heterosexual. Those are the concepts that are put there in terms of what defines a romantic relationship. But there’s really actually so many ways to be in a relationship and there are several reasons to open up a relationship.
Statistics of people in committed relationships that are having extra relationship interactions or extramarital interactions also known as affairs can vary widely ranging from 15% of relationships up to 78% of relationships. That’s a huge gap. And a lot of that has to do with who’s reporting and who’s actually reporting and really talking about if they’ve ever had an affair in their life.
Men are normally reporting higher rates than women but we’re not certain if that’s actually what’s happening or because it’s more accepted or expected in society that men are going to be the ones having affairs. That it’s more comfortable for men to report having had an affair versus a woman. So, there’s some gender stuff going on here too. But my point is that sex outside of a committed relationship is already happening and it basically always had.
So, couples are choosing, some couples are choosing to do it another way with honesty and with consent. So, more and more couples are exploring ethical non-monogamy. Now it’s about 20 to 30% of people having experienced it at some point in their relationship today. And there could be many reasons why people are choosing ethical non-monogamy.
Maybe you love each other but sexually you’re not really compatible and you’re okay with that. You’re like, this relationship matters. And if we’re not compatible sexually that’s not necessarily a reason to give up the relationship. It could be that you find yourself in a relationship where one person identifies as asexual or one person is no longer interested in sex and they’re comfortable not being interested in sex but preserving the relationship is something that’s important. And so, if that’s the case then you get to think outside the box and come up with other ways of doing this.
Maybe one of you has discovered that your sexual orientation is changing or you’re more comfortable with revealing your sexual orientation but you’d also like to stay together. And you find that one partner is attracted more so to a different gender than whom they’re in a relationship with. And so, it may be the case that that’s another reason to decide to open up the relationship. Maybe you realize that you want more connection sexually and/or emotionally with other people. Maybe it’s like this relationship is great but I want to experience something else as well.
Maybe the decision is made because it makes sense financially to stay together. Maybe it’s such that you’re living with your roommate essentially but there’s a great friendship there or financially there’s good reasons to stay together but intimately that phase has kind of gone and it’s okay but the relationship is important. And so, choosing either for financial reasons or whatever reasons to seek the emotional intimacy and the physical intimacy outside of the relationship.
Some people experience non-monogamy as part of their identity, it’s an integral part of their identity. They’re a person that likes to love many people and likes to have more than one relationship to experience things. So it could be that that’s how they identify and so that could be a reason why the choice is made. Maybe it turns on one or more of the partners, it kind of adds spice to the relationship and so that’s a choice that’s made in terms of opening up the relationship.
And also, it could be because it creates a deeper emotional connection to your partner due to having more consistent, honest and open communication. It kind of deepens the trust and it deepens the relationship in a different way. So, there’s many reasons that people may choose to engage in ethical non-monogamy. And those are just a few. There’s many more, for any relationship that chooses or any people in the relationship that choose to engage in ethical non-monogamy, then there’s a million reasons why that actually happens.
But I’m going to take a moment to discuss one reason never to open up a relationship. And that is if the relationship is failing. If there’s resentment, and anger, and mistrust there, if there’s not respect for each other in the relationship and if there is poor communication, ethical non-monogamy will not save that kind of relationship. In fact, it’s the fastest way to kill the relationship. Nothing ends a bad relationship faster than ethical non-monogamy.
So let me be clear, if you’re interested in ethical non-monogamy, you need to start with a healthy relationship and have the ability to communicate well. So, if you’re considering ethical non-monogamy but you don’t feel like your communication is up to par then consider going to couples counseling or couples coaching and working on your communication. I always suggest that you start by dating each other and doing the work to make sure the love and the commitment is there and the communication in the relationship before you decide to open it up.
So, if you’re starting from a healthy place then I also suggest being intentional and to keep your relationship healthy. Maybe date each other exclusively, yeah, even if you’re married, I am talking about dating. Dating each other exclusively for a period of time, maybe two months. And during that time process and think what exactly you would like this to look like. If you would open up the relationship what is important in the relationship that you have now? Reconnect with each other, find the love that you have for each other and the reasons why you want to be there.
Make sure that everybody feels very secure within the relationship. Process and talk about that, about feeling secure and recognizing that there is love, that it’s not a matter of one person replacing another with somebody outside of the relationship. That is very important. Take the time to look and see, what are your thoughts about opening up a relationship. How do you think it will enhance the relationship? And what are your fears? And make sure this is something that you’re both willing to do because consent is so important.
If it’s the case that one person is really gung-ho and really excited about it and the other person is kind of like, “I don’t think so. I’m not sure if this is right for me.” Continue to have the discussions but if there’s not mutual consent, then there is an issue. I find that one of the partners that is suggesting the ethical non-monogamy is really focused on all the fun that other people are having out there and really think that it’s a lot about sex. They’re like, “Oh, my goodness, if we do this opening up the relationship there will be sex all the time.”
Let me tell you, there’s not as much sex as there is a lot of communication going on and a lot of scheduling going on. And not as much sex as you would think. There’s the fantasy and then there’s the reality of it all. And then also it’s very important for the partner that is suggesting opening up the relationship to really look and explore.
That so often they’re focused on how much fun they’re going to have and how everything’s going to get better if they’re having more sex with somebody else that they don’t recognize. If you’re opening up the relationship there’s two people that had the opportunity to engage in intimacy and sexual intimacy with others.
Honestly, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen it where the husband suggests ethical non-monogamy and the wife reluctantly agrees. And then they start posting their availability in different groups and talking to different people. And the wife ends up having tons of dates and the husband is not. The wife is like, “We should have done this years ago.” And the husband wants to go back to monogamy. And why is that? I’ll tell you why, because hubby is at home with the kids and gets the doggy bag from her dates.
He starts requesting monogamy again or he wants to institute what they call the one penis rule where she can date as many women as she wants to but she’s not really allowed to date men or she’s not really allowed to have sex with men. This speaks to insecurities. And this speaks to really it’s not fair and it’s not equal. And it’s a lot of bullshit basically. So really spend some time looking at this. There is the fantasy and then there’s the reality of it. So, spend some time looking at the situation and talking beforehand about your concerns.
So, let’s talk a little bit about concerns and things that are important to discuss if you’re thinking about opening up a relationship. Number one is consent. It has to be something where everybody is willing to at least give this a try. Willing to explore it, willing to think about it, willing to talk about it and eventually getting to the place where they’re willing to engage in ethical non-monogamy.
And it could be the case where, they call it a monopoly structure or something like that where one person in the relationship is fine being monogamous, and they don’t necessarily have a need to go outside the relationship but they’re okay with their partner having other relationships outside of their primary relationship. So that might be the case that works where it’s a monopoly structure. There’s still consent involved in that and that’s fine. But make sure there’s consent of everybody involved.
And you can talk about what kind of structure that you’d like to set up. Other things you might want to look into, is this more like a swinging situation where you’d want anonymity and not necessarily identity exposure? Those are some things to think about. Protection is going to be important, if there is actually sexual intimacy that’s going to be involved with other people, protection, to what extent is there shared fluids? What are the rules around STI testing? These are things to be aware of as well.
Can people come to the house? Or do you meet in hotels? Those are things to start asking yourself. Can other people live in the same town that you live in or do you live in a really small town where that’s not going to work, and it needs to be a radius somewhere further outside of the town that you live in? Making sure that people you’re engaging with are mentally stable, that’s something that’s really important, and not threatening your relationship. Those are things to talk about.
I don’t specifically talk about rules because as soon as you start imposing rules there’s a lot of problems but you can start talking about what you two are comfortable with and what’s important and things like that. You decide if you want specific rules or veto power or something like that. And each relationship has a different set of concerns and a different set of structures that they have decided. Is there a limit to the number of people that are going to be engaged in this situation with you?
And then is there a specific amount of time that you’re willing to allot to this but not necessarily Monday nights on the schedule, can be engaged in this but the rest of the week we’re not going to engage in it.
Something else to recognize and is what I call new relationship energy. If you happen to either you yourself or your partner tends to be a person that loves being in love they may be the type that gets into a new relationship energy where they’re plucking daisy petals and she loves me, she loves me not, that type of thing. And they might want to talk all about the new relationship that they’re in, or the new experiences. And the other partner doesn’t necessarily want to hear about it.
So that might be something else to talk about ahead of time, to what extent do you want to know what’s going on and be aware. You all get to decide what is important to you.
Okay, so those are many of the things to start thinking about if you’re going to open up relationships. There is other books that are available that would be helpful about that. And I’ll put some of those books in the show notes. And you get to decide if this is something you might be interested in doing. But figure out what’s right for you and your relationship, you and your partnership and not necessarily base it on what society says. You get to make the choice for you.
Okay, that was a short introduction to ethical non-monogamy, and we will continue the discussion around ethical non-monogamy and other interesting requests that you or your partner might want to be giving to each other. Alright, have a great week and I will talk to you next week. Dr. Sonia out.
Diamonds, how is your sex life? No, really, on a scale of one to ten how is your sex life? You know I’m all about the intimacy in midlife. If you rated the intimacy in your life less than an eight then we need to talk. I’m personally inviting you to check out my Own Your Sexuality Now intimate edition course. We just finished the January cohort and it was on fire. Women of all ages from 35 to 65 were learning about their bodies and expressing their sexuality and doing it on their own terms.
Couples who had not had sex in years found a new level of sexual intimacy and fun and they reestablished that connection. Others learned about their bodies and tapped into their pleasure zone. Another one learned to set boundaries and focus on her pleasure for the first time. One more Diamond got the independence that she needed to change up her whole life.
Own Your Sexuality Now is not just about sex, it’s about empowerment, and of course, pleasure. And right now, we’re enrolling a new group which starts on June 1st. Come join an intimate group of women for the next 12 weeks and literally change your life. Let’s create that amazing, satisfying intimacy that you so deserve. If you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s then this is the place for you. You potentially have 30 to 40, even 50 more years of intimacy ahead of you. What do you want that to look like?
Let’s get real and let’s talk about what’s going on with your body, your libido and see what we can do to kickstart that intimacy again. This program is for you whether or not you are partnered. If you’re single, if you’re partnered, if you’re in questionable status, whatever your relationship status is, this is for you. If you’re a woman who wants to enjoy all aspects of her life then this is the program for you. It finally gets to be your time.
And did we mention that we have added in relationship coaching? So, you get an additional four bonus group sessions with a relationship coach. You’ve really got to join us. So, click on the link below in the show notes or on my website at soniawrightmd.com and join me in Own Your Sexuality Now, the intimate edition. I can’t wait to see you. Talk to you soon, Diamonds.