[This is the text of the book review from episode thirty eight.]
This week’s book is Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino.
Though the title is about open relationships, the book covers anything that isn’t monogamy.
Opening Up is geared both towards people new to non-monogamy and people with experience; those who want to open up an existing relationship, those involved with someone who wants to open up an existing relationship, and single people who identify as poly.
Included are personal stories about every kind of relationship—there are quotes throughout chapters, then a longer interview with a couple or group of people in a relationship at the end of each. It’s always nice to get a real life take on how non-traditional lifestyles affect the people involved. Seeing how people navigate their relationships makes them seem more manageable and less nerve-wracking for those of us who are nervous about exploring the unknown.
The Introduction includes the methodology for the people Taormino interviewed. Woof—methodology. The respondents were largely US-based and it wasn’t a scientific study, but still provided a nice array of personal stories.
Early on, the author says that in writing the book she realised there is no formula for creating a successful open relationship. There were often similarities, but each was unique, so Opening Up is more of a general guidebook than a strict recipe.
The first chapter covers beginnings—the history of swinging and other non-traditional relationships, as well as gay and lesbian contributions and communes.
Chapter two is concerned with myths about the non-monogamous folks. That’s a good one to wake you up in the morning if you’d like to get your blood pressure up.
Chapter three aims to help the reader decide if open relationships are right for them. This includes reasons people do the poly thing, as well as reasons people should not give it a shot. One of those reasons is in order to ‘fix’ a current relationship. Which seems sort of obvious, but okay. I mean, it’s not going so great with the two of you so let’s add an entire other person (or more) with their own emotions and needs into the mix.
Why not buy a house, move across country and have kids, too? That will fix everything forever.
I kind of get it—you’re not happy and think if you can see other people that will help because the problem is you’re bored or stuck or whathaveyou, but… no. You’re just inflicting your awful relationship on other people, which isn’t polite.
This chapter includes questions to ask yourself to ascertain your current beliefs about relationships (we all know how much I love homework—and there were several assignments throughout the book).
One of the reasons people have multiple intimate relationships was stated this way:
People in open relationships enjoy exploring different dynamics with different people—sexual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Non-monogamy gives them the opportunity to create unique relationships that nourish and support each other.
This is what I am here for. I know people who think married men shouldn’t even hug women who aren’t their wives. The idea that the person you are legally attached to having to not only meet every need, but also not being allowed to explore a variety of connections with anyone else is nuts. How possessive can you be?
Within the concept of different types of connections—the author talks about people in bi/straight, vanilla/kinky or even Dom/Dom pairings. I hadn’t considered that last one, but that must be something else.
Taormino is very kink-friendly and, if a topic can have a kink-related issue, she addresses it.
This isn’t surprising, as she edited The Ultimate Guide to Kink, but still, it’s nice to see, since that’s most relevant to my life.
In this chapter she says:
My mission in sex and relationship education has always been to empower people to explore all their options, discover what works best for them, and go out and get it.
She’s my kind of individual.
Chapter Four is What Makes an Open Relationship Work?
The same things that make kink work—consent, communication and self-awareness for starters. This chapter is full of excellent advice because just because you’re aware of what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it it doesn’t make the jealousy (or whatever) disappear.
The ever popular Non-Violent Communication makes an appearance—you know, the one where you use ‘I’ statements and own your feelings—that one.
Other things that make open relationships work: trust, honesty, boundaries and fidelity and commitment. Taormino delves into all of these in depth and explains why they’re important and how to implement them into your new, awesome life.
Then we get into different styles of non-monogamy in chapters five through nine, which include partnered nonmonogamy, swinging, polyamory, solo polyamory and polyfidelity.
Each chapter provides a definition and other information specific to that style, as well as pros and cons and why you may choose that particular style.
I wasn’t familiar with all of those, so, in case you aren’t either, here is how the author defines each:
Partnered nonmonogamy is for committed couples who want a relationship that is erotically nonmonogamous, where each partner can be involved with other people for sex, BDSM or other erotic activities. The BDSM play may or may not include genital sex.
In other words—you can do sexytimes, but can’t date or get romantically attached. This is what I personally think of when someone says they’re in an ‘open relationship’.
Swinging gets its own chapter, even though it’s a type of partnered nonmonogamy, because there’s a lot going on there. Even within the swinging community you have options galore. I interviewed Cooper S. Beckett in episode eight, where we discussed swinging (amongst many other things) if you’re looking for more information specifically on that.
Polyamory is next and Taormino defines it as:
…the desire for or the practice of maintaining multiple significant, intimate relationships simultaneously.
The relationships don’t have to include sex, but they can.
Solo Polyamory was one I hadn’t considered but made sense once the idea was introduced. This is when someone doesn’t want a primary partner. Legally they’d be considered single, but they’d have multiple intimate, varied relationships that overlapped or coexisted.
The final one mentioned is Polyfidelity, which is when multiple people are fidelitous to one another. Like a sexy, loving sports team.
In the polyamory section the author includes non-sexual poly relationships. I was surprised (happily) that they were not uncommon—according to Taormino. Perhaps poly people are more accepting of non-traditional sexualities and different types of relationships.
That section also covers hierarchical poly and non-hierarchical polyamory. The first is when one relationship is considered primary and takes precedence in one way or another over any others and the second is when all relationships are equal.
After that is a chapter on mono/poly hybrid relationships, which was of particular interest to me, as this is the style I’ll be entering and it has its own challenges and stigmas even within the poly community.
The chapter also addresses how to deal with lop-sided feelings of jealousy—in most open relationships people can look at it like, ‘My partner is going out tonight, but I have a date tomorrow so it’s fine,’ but that doesn’t apply in hybrid configurations, as well as guilt on behalf of the partner who is ‘getting everything they want’.
It’s going to be a good time. I’m looking forward to it.
As a sidebar—something I realised about myself in reading this is that I would like to eventually live with both my husband and D-type. Somehow, my brain hadn’t presented that as a possibility before, but learning that there are people who are co-husbands (or two men involved with the same woman and quite happy about it) made me think, ‘Baroo?’ I could very happily—I think—live with a female D-type and Walter and do the housework during the day while they went off to their respective jobs. We’d all have our separate rooms and it’d be swell. She could date or whatever, but I’m the sub, hmph.
Chapter eleven contains guidelines on how to design your open relationship, starting with things like whether or not you need to share an emotional connection with anyone you’re involved with, whether you can see yourself married/committed/partnered to more than one person or disliking hierarchy. Amongst other things. These are only general guides—every situation is going to be unique, of course.
This section goes into a great deal of detail so you can try to work out what you want—the author says she’s tried to think of everything for you, though you can’t plan for everything—you can be as prepared as possible.
Some of the particulars to consider are Who, meaning gender, coupled status, age, D/s status, etc. There are checklists. You know how that gave me heart eyes.
Then there’s what—as in, what you’re looking for. Safer sex, romance, BDSM activities. Be specific about all of these.
When: Frequency, Specific Days or Times.
Where: Geography, Events, Home—are you allowed to only see other people when travelling? Are you allowed to have sex with someone else in your shared bed?
There’s a chapter that specifically addresses jealousy and other intense feelings like envy and fear of abandonment and other things people write songs about. Then a chapter about compersion, which is the opposite of jealousy—when you get the warm fuzzies because someone you love is happy.
Chapter fourteen is on common challenges and problems and how to deal with them like New Relationship Energy (or when your partner is being really annoying because their brain chemistry looks like a meth lab), Time Management (because they haven’t invented Time-Turners) and Agreement Violations (or visits to the Not-Cool Zone).
Fifteen addresses something that’s important to keep in mind for kink relationships as well—continual communication. It’s called Opening Up Again: When Something Changes.
A relationship isn’t a static thing designed like a house and works perfectly just the way it is. Things change—people change—needs and desires change.
Sometimes people move from one type of nonmonogamy to another. The chapter includes this quote:
People’s self-judgment can be exacerbated by criticism from other nonmonogamous people. Some polyamorous people believe so strongly in polyamory as a lifestyle that they see other styles—even other styles of nonmonogamy—as inferior.
Sigh. The Judgersons. They are legion. It’s important to feel superior to someone, isn’t it?
There’s also this:
If you’ve explored your options and chosen monogamy, remember that your choice is valid. You seek a relationship style that fits your needs, and for some people that style is monogamy. Take all the relationship skills you learned from nonmonogamy and apply them to your monogamous relationship.
I’m not sure how I feel about the word ‘chosen’ there, but I agree with the sentiment as a whole. The more I think about it the more I think people are naturally monogamous or nonmonogamous. They can choose to behave monogamously or choose to try to be nonmonogamous, but won’t be entirely true to themselves. I’m 100% on the side of being true to yourself if you’re not hurting anyone else so…
I guess what I’m saying is, I’d phrase it: If you’ve explored your options and realised you’re monogamous, remember that’s valid.
Of course it is. There are also completely straight people in the world. I’m sorry this is how you had to find out.
The following chapter is on coming out—the hazards and benefits. Why are people so threatened? Nevermind. I know why. They think nonmonogamous people are having orgies in the street and if they were allowed to then they would suddenly partake, too. For some reason. Because sex is evil and irresistible. Or something.
People are insane.
There are chapters on the unsexy but vital topics of STIs and safer sex, raising children in non-traditional familial arrangements and legal issues.
The chapter on STIs was the most out-of-date (the book was published in 2008) and we know more now, but the how to have safer sex information was still accurate.
That last chapter was the most infuriating one of the book, as non-married partners have no legal standing in the eyes of the law without investing time and money into legal services.
Even then, in some ways, non-traditional relationships are still discriminated against.
For example, though many groups are protected under fair housing provisions—people can’t discriminate based on religion, race, disability, sexual orientation, and so on—poly relationships aren’t protected.
Another was that, in some places, it’s illegal for more than a certain number of unrelated adults to live on one property (I suppose to keep it from being a hotel? Who knows.)
So if you’re in a group who all wants to live in a massive Victorian together—check the zoning regulations.
That’s insane! It’s just grown up human beings choosing where to live!
I suppose because the idea of loving more than one person—or being involved with more than one person—has always made sense to me I don’t get what the big deal is. I also don’t get why it took me so long to work out I’m poly, but that’s a different thing.
I was looking at reviews on Goodreads and one person went on a bit of a tear about something this book espouses, which is that no one person can’t be everything to anyone else so it makes sense you’d want to be involved with other people to get different needs met. This makes perfect sense to me, as that’s what I’m all about. The person who was unhappy with this assertion says that makes other people into need-providers rather than separate, complete humans.
Oh. Right. That’s a fair point. What if they stop providing the thing you originally bring them into your life for? Do you cut them out again? Do they become disposable? Yeah. How much of a dick do you have to be to see people that way? It’s one thing if you only have one thing in common and you drift apart if one of you loses interest in that one thing, but if I had a Domme and our relationship moved from power exchange to friendship I hope I wouldn’t be, ‘Oh, well if you’re not my Dominant then I don’t want to know you.’
If I like you enough to serve you then I should hope we can still play board games or talk about books or watch films or, freakin’ something.
Anyway, the book has notes and resources galore, for people who’d like further information, and the book also has its own website OpeningUp.net.
This is a must-read for people considering or those interested in improving their non-monogamous relationships. I would even recommend it over Ethical Slut, though I think both are highly useful this one covers some areas that one doesn’t. 5/5