Open marriages—do they ever work?


Q. Open marriages—do they ever work? After 16 years and one kid, my husband and I are considering an open marriage. Over a year ago, I met another man whom I was attracted to and wanted to fuck. I had met men like this throughout our marriage, but never did anything because I was married and respectful of the monogamous relationship we had. I would just bring that “crush” energy home and take it out on my husband. Our sex life has always been OK—nothing mind-blowing, but steady.

Well, we hit the inevitable rut that couples sometimes get into, and I was bored and frustrated and wanted more than my husband was giving me. I asked, but he just wasn’t interested in exploring anything more than the vanilla sex we were already having. I gently tried toys, porn, going out to bars and checking out others for three-ways. He wasn’t interested. So I made peace with the fact that I was stuck with a vanilla guy and just focused on the other parts that worked—good partner, good man, steady guy. A little boring, but better than a drama freak.

Then about a year ago, I met someone with whom a friendship turned into a strong attraction. Instead of having an affair, I told my husband that I wanted to be able to pursue sex with this person since I wasn’t getting what I wanted at home. Husband got pissed and said no way (no surprise), but that if I did do anything, he didn’t want to know about it. Don’t ask, don’t tell. I didn’t do anything out of respect for him, but it made me resentful. So I decided to ask for a divorce before entering into an affair, and about five months ago my husband and I separated. I have been seeing the other man during this time, and the sex has been amazing—he’s doing the things that I begged my husband to do with me. My husband has been miserable without me and has agreed to an open marriage so we can still be together, be a family, while I can be free to have an outside relationship. (My husband is also free to have an outside relationship.) He now accepts that I’ve been with another man (whom he has met) and that I am capable of loving him as a husband while having a sexual relationship on the side.

This has been a long letter, I realize, but all I want to know is if this is a recipe for disaster. Am I fooling myself about the reality of opening a marriage up to include outside lovers? Does it only sound good in theory? —Trying to Find Happiness

A: Open marriages work, TTFH, but only sometimes—just like, um, what are those other things that only work sometimes called again? Oh, right: closed marriages. Will your open marriage work? I couldn’t tell you. But I can tell you something that you already know: Your closed marriage definitely wasn’t working. You were no longer willing to settle for the sex life you shared with your husband, you decided to separate, and you were headed for divorce. Then your husband concluded that being together and being a family was more important to him than being sexually exclusive. And so you’re back together—for now. Will it work out over the long run? It could, TTFH, but only if you keep those lines of communication open, treat each other with love and respect, and make sure that, emotionally if not sexually, you are each other’s top priority.

And if your open marriage doesn’t work out, if it’s a disaster, what’s the worst that can happen? You wind up getting a divorce—which you were about to do anyway. So I wouldn’t say that openness is a threat to your marriage, TTFH. I’d say it’s your marriage’s last chance.

Q: I just started dating a great girl who is significantly younger than me. I’m 35 and she’s 20. As a longtime reader, I know and agree with your “campsite rule” about having sex with younger people: I have a responsibility to leave her in better shape than I found her. Part of that is easy—be honest, caring, open, GGG, etc.—but I would like to request that you ask your readers who have been in relationships with a large age gap what their partners did for them that left them better off? Or worse off? —One Less Douche

A: Honoring my campsite rule—which applies to older folks sleeping with significantly younger folks—doesn’t merely require that you be honest, caring, open, and GGG, OLD. It also means that you do all you can to make sure this young woman emerges from this relationship with no STIs, no fertilized eggs, no restraining orders, no emotional trauma, and with improved sexual skills. To aid you in doing that, I’m happy to invite readers to serve up specific, real-life examples of older partners honoring the campsite rule.

Q: I’m a loyal fan and a physician who cares for people living with HIV. I was reading a column from a few months back and appreciated your candid response to an HIV-negative man who was embarking on a new sexual relationship with a known HIV-positive man. However, I would’ve hoped that you would touch upon what a guy should do if a condom does break. According to CDC guidelines, if a person receives HIV medicine within 72 hours of a condom breaking or another “exposure,” there is evidence that you can actually prevent HIV infection. Of course, these medicines have to be taken for 28 days, have lots of side effects, and are not always effective. I would never promote unprotected sex with the idea that you could just take the medicines afterward and have no worries. The medical world has termed this “post-exposure prophylaxis.” It has been the standard of care since January 2005. I was just hoping that you would share this with your readers. From the number of patients I continue to see, I am unsure if this is public knowledge. —Pittsburgh Doctor

A: Thanks for sharing, PD.

Now for a little sex-positive journalism: Recently, the sex-negative journalism of a certain teeveenewz reporter—Kandiss Crone of WLBT News in Jackson, Mississippi—annoyed me so much that I devoted an entire column to slapping her around. I even urged my readers to send Crone angry e-mails and, er, used sex toys. Perhaps I went a little overboard. Crone isn’t the only “journalist” out there doing idiotic sex-negative work. Most of what gets written about sex is negative. This sad state of affairs inspired the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the Center for Sex & Culture, Babeland, and journalist Miriam Axel-Lute to launch the Sex-Positive Journalism Awards. By drawing attention to good sex-positive reporting, the “Sexies” hope to promote fair, accurate, and non-sensationalized coverage of sexual topics. I’m proud to have been asked to serve as a judge for the first annual Sex-Positive Journalism Awards. The deadline for submissions for the first annual Sexies is March 23, 2008. (The piece must have been published during 2007.) Anyone can submit a piece for consideration at the Sexies website. Anything by Kandiss Crone is, of course, ineligible.