Is monogamy the answer? Not for many couples, who are redefining their relationship boundaries to choose what’s right for them. We’re starting a semi-regular series of ‘secret lives’ Q&As, and our first is with Jenna, a mum-of-two who’s been in a long-time open relationship with her fiance. She lifts the duvet on their arrangement and answers our nosy questions about sex, love and the pros and cons of sleeping with others. Opinionated, funny and one of our all-time favourite Twitter followers, you can follow Jenna here. She’s selective, though, so if you’re a stalker with any creepy ideas, don’t even try.
How long have you and your partner been in an open relationship?
My partner and I had an off/again relationship up to, and including, the birth of our children. We didn’t make a decision to live together until after our second child was born. It was usually me pulling away. Until we talked about how us being together didn’t need to mean monogamy, I really wasn’t interested. We’re best friends and can talk about anything but this was unspoken for far too long. It cost us three years of happiness.
You mentioned on Twitter that the open thing was a change in attitude from when you were younger, or from six months ago. So I’m guessing this is a fairly new development for you guys?
The ‘change in approach’ was that we had both been brought up to believe marriage and living together meant one person forever. In rejecting the orthodoxy of our upbringings with the refusal to christen our children, we realised that the other social conventions that we’d been applying by default also didn’t apply. Once we’d discussed this, we realised the barriers we both perceived to be there were illusory. In other words, we discussed these things BEFORE we made this commitment to each other.
Do you think an open relationship is something you both need to be fully into? Did one of you need more convincing in the start?
Neither of us needed any real convincing. We’d both been seeing other people from the beginning of our relationship. We just kept getting back together as best friends because there’s no-one else who means as much to us as we do to each other. The attraction is huge.
Do you think you need to be a certain type of person to be in an open relationship? (ie, not a jealous/overly suspicious person?)
I definitely feel there are some things you cannot be. You can’t be possessive or insecure. Jealousy and insecurity are so unattractive to me as personality traits I know I couldn’t ever be with someone that weak. I’m attracted to strength and certainty. Ironic, isn’t it?
Do either of you ever worry the other might fall in love with someone else?
I don’t ever worry that he won’t come back. That’s really more of an issue for people who think their relationship is monogamous. I don’t own him or his feelings. He stays because he wants to. I stay with him because I love him. That’s all anyone has. The rest is just window dressing.
Do you think this is ‘nature’s way’? (ie we’re not really designed for one partner or for monogamy?)
I’m unsure about the “nature” issue. I know what it is that I like. I know that my man might like to ‘stray’ but he loves to come home. It works for us. I don’t think past that. History is littered with ‘breaking rules’. I simply think the rule doesn’t exist. As long as the couple agree on the form a relationship takes, it’s a moot point.
Do you find it taboo to talk about? What do your friends/family think? Who don’t you tell and why?
It’s probably taboo in most circles. We don’t tell our parents, with the exception of my mother. What happens with us is really no-one else’s business. The only people to whom I am answerable are my partner and children. Will we ever discuss this with our children? No. Why? For the same reason most parents don’t discuss their sex lives with their children. Imagine your parents having sex. With anyone. Exactly. Do our friends know? Some of them. Most of them probably. We don’t discuss it like we chat about the weather. If people ask, we are happy to talk about it, in broad strokes and without graphic detail. There’s a difference between sharing and salaciousness. So why am I open in a situation like this? Because it’s far more common than people want to admit. The nature of our relationship may be different but the urge to be polygamous isn’t. I wanted people to know it’s OK to be yourselves. So when reality chick asked me to chat, I thought, why not?
Do you have to believe it’s just sex with other people – and that you’re keep your emotions and love for your primary partner?
It certainly depends upon the situation but I don’t have anything more than friendly affection for the friends I sleep with. It’s purely a physical act with the others. Love and affection is only for my man. Some of the people I choose to be with are chance aquaintances I meet at opportune times; like holidays or a night out by myself. Some, and this is always in the more organised situations for us both, are friends we have known for years.
Have you put ‘rules’ in place, in terms of sleeping with others?
It doesn’t come home. Our bed is for us. We don’t want to know about other lovers. We don’t want to know when, who or how. What happens away from home stays there. We don’t ‘organise’ time away from each other to be with others. This openness only happens when we are apart and the opportunity arises. In the situations we decide to share and explore together, we have specific rules for each scenario and the ability to step in at any time and call a halt. That is very situation dependent. General rules? Practice safe sex with others. Be discreet. Never name names. Don’t bring others home. Treat everyone involved with respect and dignity.
What about STDs? Is that a big concern?
In the shared times, if we decide that barrier protection is not required, we only do so with people whose sexual history we know and have known for a long time. There aren’t many ‘shared times’, I hasten to add. We are scrupulous in our health checks.
How do you guys find partners – swingers parties, the internet, mutual friends etc?
In our case we usually share with friends. If we are alone and apart, it’s by chance; a one night stand, if you will. I don’t think I’d sleep with someone I met on the internet or at a swingers’ party. My need comes from attraction, not from a specific act. Most of our known fetishes and kinks we can service within our relationship. We’ve swung but only with friends. And we have few friends where we are both attracted enough to the other couple to want to do that. The same goes for threesomes. It happens but not a tenth as much as people imagine.
How much do you discuss the sex you’ve had with other people? Do you find you have more to offer your partner in bed, exploring sex with others?
We don’t discuss other people when we are in bed. Occasionally I’ve thought, “Oh new trick” or surprised him with something I’ve tried out on someone else. Sometimes we’ll say “I don’t like that so much” and giggle. We were both reasonably sexually experienced before we met so I’m not sure how much we’re going to ‘learn’.
What’s been the biggest change you didn’t expect from opening up your relationship?
What we DO find is that the first time after we’ve had a shared experience, the desire to be together is huge; like a ‘reclaiming’ and an affirmation of how powerful our love is. Whenever I’ve been with someone else, I find that it’s like rediscovering him, from foreplay to orgasm to post-coital snuggling. The sex is always good but after either of us has been with someone else, that first time back together is mind-blowing.
Have there been any downsides you perhaps didn’t expect?
The judgment. I’ve had third hand comments come back to me about what a slapper I am or how I let my guy go off because I’m not woman enough to hold on to him. I treat those with the contempt they deserve. You have to have a thick skin and be very secure to be open or have an open relationship. If you’re overly concerned about the opinions of others, it’s not for you. The other, and more worrying, downside is the amount of unwanted attention it attracts, usually from men who think you’re easy or that they have a chance. I’m very specific about what I like, I make that attraction known and if I’m not asking, we aren’t dancing. Some men take a while to get that message.
What would be your best advice for other couples contemplating an open relationship?
Talk openly with your partner about your fantasy and desires. Do it openly and frankly. If you can’t do that without fear, I’d question why I was sharing my life with someone I couldn’t open up to. If you can’t find common ground then you’re faced with the choice; do I let that dream go or is it time for me to move on. There are no easy choices in life. Don’t settle for average or maybes. Talk, listen, agree.