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Health and Sexuality: Exploring an open relationship


"My partner and I are interested in opening up our relationship so we're free to see other people. We are unsure how to go about doing this in a way that won't cause tension or problems in our relationship. Do you have any advice?"

Nonmonogamous relationships are becoming more common in the United States. A recent study conducted by, an online legal marketplace, found about 4 percent of Americans admitted to being in an open relationship. Only 45 percent of men were morally opposed to the idea of an open relationship, compared to 62 percent of women. There are many forms of open relationships. The most common types of open relationships in the United States are swinging and polyamory. Swinging involves committed partners consensually exchanging partners for sex. Polyamorous relationships allow a person to engage in more than one relationship at a time, while being open and honest with all their partners. Polyfidelity is similar to polyamory, but it is a closed relationship encompassing more than two people.

The biggest decision you and your partner must make, if you decide this lifestyle is right for you, is what kind of open relationship you would like. Are you comfortable with your partner pursuing romantic relationships outside of your relationship? Are you only okay with sexual relationships and not romantic relationships? Will the two of you be approaching people together or apart? These are just some of the initial decisions to be made. It is important to have boundaries and rules in place before you open your relationship. For example, you and your partner will need to decide how much time will be allocated to this new person in your relationship, what family vacations will look like, what titles to use.

There can be risks and benefits to romantically or sexually opening your relationship. Some people feel that one person is unable to satisfy all of their emotional and/or sexual needs. For this reason, an open relationship might alleviate pressure on a partner who cannot or will not meet all those needs. However, opening your relationship increases the risk of sexually transmitted illnesses, insecurities, jealousy and other complications. Being in an open relationship is not easy. These relationships often require much patience, planning and tolerance from all involved. Challenges will arise, and in order to get past them, consistent open and honest communication is absolutely necessary.

Dr. Katie Schubert has master's and doctorate degrees in sociology and gender studies from the University of Florida and a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling from Adams State University in Colorado. She completed her postgraduate studies at Florida Postgraduate Sex Therapy Training Institute and is a certified sex therapist, providing therapy to individuals, couples and families on issues related to sexuality, sex and gender in St. Petersburg. She also is a professor of sociology at the University of Tampa. Contact her at

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