A beginner's guide to open relationships

How do gay men navigate this tricky terrain?

A beginner's guide to open relationships

Relationships are never easy and always fairly complicated, and you’ve got to find what works for you. There’s no right or wrong way of being in a relationship with another person, as long as everyone is getting what they need.

If we were going to make some sweeping generalisations, you could probably say that most heterosexual relationships start out with the intention of monogamy. Whereas most gay relationships start out with at least an implied intention of polyamory.

What is polyamory?

Polyamory is essentially the opposite of monogamy.

A monogamous relationship is where two people have agreed that they will only have sex with each other. A polyamorous relationship is where the couple have agreed that they can sex with each other as well as with other people.

An open relationship is a polyamorous relationship.

What are the rules of an open relationship?

There’s no right or wrong way to have an open relationship – it’s up to you and your partner to find what works for you as a couple.

This might be something that you talk about up-front at the beginning of the relationship, but generally it’s something that evolves over time as your relationship develops.

While there’s lots of variations and nuances when it comes to open relationships, here’s a couple of general categories that might be useful reference points.

The couple that plays together stays together

In this scenario, the couple have a general rule that any polyamorous activity is undertaken together. So, they might invite someone over for a threesome, or they might go to a bathhouse together, or they might go to a sex party together. Having sex with other people is something that they enjoy, but they do it together as a couple.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

In this scenario, the couple effectively give each other permission to separately go out and have sex with whoever they want but they each don’t want to know about the encounters. They don’t want to see, and they don’t want to hear about it.

What happens in Vegas…

In this scenario, the couple are effectively saying that when we’re together, we’re monogamous. But, if you go away for a work-trip, or a weekend with your mates, and you hook-up with someone or have a bit of fun. That’s okay – you had some fun while you were away from home, but now you’re back and it’s just us again.

No repeat business

In this scenario, the couple give each other permission to have sex with other guys, but the rule is that you don’t see the same guy twice – no repeat business. The thinking here is that sex with other people is no problem, but you don’t want any emotional attachments being formed that might pose a more tangible threat to the relationships.

Hot Husbanding

In this scenario, it turns you on for your partner to be having sex with other people. Knowing that other guys find your partner desirable, strokes your ego.

There’s some variations in this. Maybe you like watching your husband having sex with others – so group action where you’re both present is a lot of fun. Or you might like whoring him out – inviting guys to come over and have sex with your husband while you watch and possibly participate. Or you might like to hear about your husband’s exploits after the fact – he comes home and tells you about what he’s been up to and who he’s been having sex with.

Cuckold fantasies

Cuckolding is a bit similar to Hot Husbanding but it’s different. Cuckold fantasies involve more of a power dynamic. If you are the cuckold, your husband is having sex with other men. You are powerless to stop it, and it’s that powerlessness that excites you. There’s often a humiliation aspect to this fantasy as well – a sense that you can’t sexually satisfy your husband so he has to get his satisfaction by having sex with others. The guy having sex with your husband is referred to as the bull.

Hints and tips for a successful open relationship


It’s pretty much inevitable that one or both of you will experience feelings of jealousy at some point as you navigate an open relationship.

The key is to identify that you’re feeling jealous and to communicate with each other.

It’s helpful to have agreed some jealousy-deflecting strategies in advance, as that’s much easier than trying to negotiate them while also trying to manage your jealousy.

For example – “I know we agreed that we were going to set up a threesome this weekend, but my anxiety is off the charts and I’m not in the right head-space. Could we take a rain-check or a time-out on that and just spend time together instead?”

It’s okay to let each other know when you’re feeling jealous. We’re human – we all have moments when we feel vulnerable. Verbalising the emotions that you’re feeling helps you both stay on the same page.


One of the tricky dynamics in an open relationship is that one partner may be more sexually active than the other. This can give rise to feelings of inadequacy, that sense of: “Aren’t I enough for him?”

Again, communication here is key, but sexual satisfaction is not equivalent to commitment to the relationship.

Just because your partner wants to have sex with other people in order to meet his sexual needs, doesn’t mean he’s any less committed to you or the relationship that you have together.

This is not a hostage situation

We talk about having to negotiate an open relationship, but that’s probably the wrong starting point. There’s no winners or losers here, there’s no ultimatums being issued – you’re on the same side.

You and your partner are a team – you need to be working together. If the game-plan that you’d agreed isn’t really working out, then you need to re-think the game-plan – together.

Tactics such as unilaterally withdrawing consent to whatever had previously been agreed will inevitably blow up in your face.

You’ve got to learn how to talk about your feelings. Instead of giving ultimatums to your partner about what they can or can’t do, try and share your perspective by articulating your feelings.

For example – “When we went to the gym last night and you hooked up with that guy in the sauna, I was upset because it felt like you were prioritising sex with him over our workout together.”

It’s not just how we talk about our feelings, it’s also when we talk about our feelings. Giving your partner some options about when to tackle some of the trickier conversations avoids backing him into a corner.

For example: “I’d like to talk about what happened at the gym, but if now’s not a good time, maybe we could talk about it tomorrow?”

Truth hurts

There’s going to be slip-ups, there’s going to be mistakes. It’s always better to be up-front and honest about what’s going on than to try and hide something or try and ignore the problem.

Again, this is about working together as a team. Just because one of you has dropped the ball, doesn’t mean that it’s game-over.

Talk it out

It’s easier to say than to do, but you’ve got to keep communicating with each other.

Every relationship needs a lot of communication, but an open relationship amplifies the need to be sharing your feelings and experiences with each other.

If the communication between the two of you is not happening easily, put in your diary. Make it a bit fun. Once a month, having a date-night dinner where you talk about fucking. Are we having enough sex? Who are we having sex with? Who do we want to be having sex with? How can we have better sex?

Get down to business and talk about your sex life.

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