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Ask Adam: The One Tried-and-True Rule of Open Relationships

Ask Adam: Do Open Relationships Have to Hurt

Our love and sex columnist on navigating rules that leave everyone satisfied.

Dear Adam,

My husband and I are talking about opening up our relationship. However, we've seen so many of our married friends run into trouble when they do this. How can we explore our fantasies without wrecking a terrific relationship?


Sex-Positive in Sacramento

Dear Sex-Positive in Sacramento,

I think gay men might be the most sexually creative people in the world. I don't have any research data to support this, but have you heard of San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair? It's the world largest celebration of sexuality, and it was created by gay men.

Sexually creative couples need to support all that creativity with beautiful, intimate communication. Without that support, sexuality can definitely hurt.

Many gay couples who want open relationships -- and that's about half of them -- have learned to create open relationships while maintaining emotional safety and sexual intimacy with their long-term partners. To give you some inspiration of what that might look like, here are some examples from the stories of my clients. All of their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Craig and Jeffrey

Craig wants multiple partners, but Jeffrey only wants Craig. After much discussion and experimenting, they have created a plan that works for both of them. They cuddle on the couch for a few minutes. Then Craig will go out for two to three hours and make a conquest. Afterward, Craig will immediately come home, cuddle with Jeffrey in bed, and tell him every little detail. When the story is particularly good, Jeffrey gets very excited.

Brian and Jose

Brian is an extrovert who loves the hunt. He'll go into a bar with his partner, Jose, and flirt easily. When a cute guy is just about ready to kiss him, Brian will tell him that his boyfriend, Jose, is watching nearby. He asks the guy if they can have a three-way make-out session. For them, hunting and making out is the fun part. They like kissing strangers, but they usually don't like sleeping with them.

David and Pierre

David and Pierre are busy parents. They have little time for the chase. Each month they take turns visiting the local gay bathhouse while the other one watches Netflix with the kids.

Miguel and Charles

Once a year, at an annual gay wine event, Miguel and Charles will invite a third man into their bed. They let the man know that he is the one man they have picked all year. The guy is usually so flattered that he almost always says yes.

Tony and Chet

Tony likes to find guys on Grindr and invite them over for one-time-only mutual masturbation sessions. His husband, Chet, likes to watch. Occasionally, when Chet is out of town, he watches via webcam if the other guy is OK with that.

Did you notice any themes from the above examples? Both partners feel included. It's something they plan together. Nothing is hidden or secret. There's lots of pre-event discussion to make it happen. There are plenty of limits in terms of what they do, where, and when.

Maybe you are thinking, Wow, that's a lot to plan, and it sounds difficult to set up.

Yup. As the famous gay author Augusten Burrough writes, "Love is expensive, but everything good is." (His memoirs, Running With Scissors, Lust and Wonder, and Dry, are my three of my favorites.)

These examples are for your inspiration. None of them are probably right for you and your partner. And if you are one of the 50 percent of gay men who has no interest in an open relationship, then no plan will work. If one of you won't be happy with monogamy and one of you won't be happy with an open relationship, that's a legitimate reason to break up. The same is true if one of you wants kids and one doesn't.

Time Management and Spontaneity

Hunting for sex takes time. Even with convenient apps like Scruff or Growlr, the quest for sex can take up an entire evening and still not reap any connections. Time has value, and how we use it expresses our values. All of us need to continue to work on being mindful about how we use the limited time we have on this day, during this week, and in our lifetime.

Open relationships can create time management problems when the search for sex interferes with nondistracted, one-on-one time with your partner. People in open relationships typically experience a reduction in spontaneous, unplanned sex. If you and your partner have full-time jobs, it is simply not realistic to expect that you'll have time for spontaneous sex with others and time for each other. For some men, this is a loss. But it is a loss you'll need to live with.

People who are skilled at open relationships are good at being organized. They know how to manage scheduling. And they understand that they need to prioritize time for their primary relationship so there is room for close connection and communication every week.

I'm not for or against open relationships. We all must make that decision for ourselves. I'm for intimate and vulnerable communication, closeness, connection, and honesty in our relationships. That's what I'm fighting for.

Adam_blumx100ADAM D. BLUM, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of the Gay Therapy Center, which specializes in relationship and self-esteem issues for LGBTQ people. The center offers services in its San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles offices, or by Skype and phone worldwide. Visit its website to subscribe to its e-newsletter and free guide on building gay relationships. Follow the xenter on Facebook and read its blog. Email Adam your questions for possible publication. (Questions may be edited.)

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