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How to introduce non-monogamy into your relationship

By Maya Khamala

Although one could easily argue that life in 2022 is modern beyond compare, society as we know it is far from done with shaming and constraining people into a narrow range of sexual desires and romantic arrangements. While this can be tough to navigate for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the appeal of mainstream edicts like traditional marriage or monogamy, navigating divergent desires from within the bounds of an existing monogamous relationship can present a whole new world of challenges.

Whether you feel called to explore group sex, maybe starting with the occasional threesome—and/or ethical non-monogamy (of which polyamory and open relationships are both popular types)—it can be downright terrifying to reveal a new sexual desire. You may feel anxious that your partner will either not take you seriously, or else question whether they want to be with you. 

Take heart: if you’re trying to figure out how best to broach the topic of non-monogamy and/or group sex with your monogamous partner, chances are you’re happy in your relationship. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be trying to determine the best way forward while remaining a couple. Maybe you’re looking to explore your sexuality and/or you’ve recently come out as bisexual or pansexual and wish to explore this. Whatever the reason, rest assured, there is an ethical, respectful, and consensual path forward!

Consider the following when working up the moxy to discuss the full range of possibilities in your relationship.

How to bring up non-monogamy or group sex

1. Know your reasons.

If your relationship is strong, with solid communication and unflinching trust, you just may be well-equipped to weather the uncertainty involved with entering a new relationship paradigm. But if you’re hoping to solve unaddressed problems by welcoming new partners, you might want to hold off. Opening up a relationship to others tends to magnify any and all unresolved issues. Understand what you’re risking, and why, before you initiate a conversation. Also, if you want to invite a third (or tenth) person to bed, be sure you're ready and willing to ensure that they too are on the same page about the parameters of the relationship/arrangement. Clarity is queen.

2. Discuss the concept first.

Talking about non-monogamy or group sex on a conceptual level first may be the gentlest way to approach the topic. Rather than immediately discussing the practical considerations of drastically changing your relationship—which can, unsurprisingly, feel threatening—consider starting slow. Share a relevant article or talk you came across, or watch a movie that features a non-monogamous couple, or a hot threesome scene. This will give you a window into how your partner feels about certain avenues of sexploration and may just help to dispel future tension around these topics.

3. Try not to wallow in avoidance.

If you’ve been thinking about non-monogamy forever, or you can’t get through a day without having a visceral gang bang fantasy you wish you could act out IRL—yet you simply cannot bring it up, you’re obviously very afraid. The problem is, if you keep avoiding it, both the desire and the fear will only grow. Dig deep to identify what narrative(s) you may be nurturing that are preventing you from starting a conversation. Maybe you’re certain your partner will be devastated, or enraged, or that they'll immediately leave you. Plan to address these narratives right away when you do initiate the conversation. You might say, “I want to talk about something, but I’m scared you’ll walk away. I want us to talk about this openly, and I 100% want to hear everything you think and feel about this.”

4. Choose your moment patiently.

Just as discussing any large, life altering event can easily go down badly if brought up when a person happens to be sad, angry, depressed, anxious, exhausted—or even just really starving—you’re better off biding your time and choosing a moment that feels right to start the discussion. If you feel impatient about it, ask yourself why. Topics like non-monogamy or group sex are very rarely resolved in a single session, nor should they be. You might start out discussing your desires on a more conceptual level (i.e., via the poly lens of Spike Lee’s classic She’s Gotta Have It), and gradually work your way toward talking about what it might look like in your own relationship!

5. Don’t preach.

Whether you’ve recently been turned on to foolproof ways of reducing your carbon footprint, foolproof ways of investing in crypto, or foolproof ways of liberating your relationship from the clutches of patriarchy—nothing, and I mean nothing, is actually foolproof. And even if it was, evangelizing is not a good look, no matter how excited you are. Chances are, your partner will not take well to being “educated” or “enlightened.” The reality is, if you have zero concerns about a fundamental change like this, you probably haven’t given it enough thought. As with all relationship types, non-monogamy has both its strengths and weaknesses.

6. Don’t rush.

If you’ve been thinking about broaching the topic for months, or even years, you’ve likely done research and spoken to others, and you’re probably a lot further along than your partner when it comes to processing the whole thing. Being patient and supportive when you start this discussion is key. Rather than demanding decisions or actions, offer tender invitations. Many couples go from discussing a threesome or talking about an open relationship, to trying it out right away. If you’re excited, it’s understandable to want to jump in, but if your partner is even a little unsure, or dealing with feelings of jealousy, it can be a lot. For your relationship’s sake, consider slowing your roll slow by graduating from conversing to researching, and eventually to befriending others who are either curious or practicing non-monogamy. For some, building community first—before actually diving into the dating pool or inviting a third person to bed—is much less stressful.

Bottom line: even though non-monogamy and group sex are both gaining popularity, these can still be super sensitive topics in the context of an existing relationship, no matter how strong it is. Not only do they challenge many norms at the core of dominant society, but they may also challenge foundational personal beliefs about love, belonging, and self-worth. While there may be a lot to gain from having this conversation with your partner, always remember to take your time and navigate it with loving kindness. The last thing you want is for your partner to agree to something because they don’t feel saying no is an option, or because they can’t afford to lose you. This conversation should be about working together to fulfill both of your desires, no matter what that looks like at the end of the day.

To the journey. <3

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