From a young age, sex and sexuality both fascinated me and racked me with guilt.
I grew up in a culture marked by chronic jealousy and possessiveness, sexism and double standards, oppression and moral hypocrisy, and permissiveness behind closed doors, on special occasions such as carnaval and in entertainment for the masses. The female presenters of children’s TV shows wore micro or super-tight outfits. Other TV shows warned us of the dangers of sex, the AIDS acronym flashing across the screen. It was not ok to go topless, but it was ok to wear a G-string at the beach. The national idol for a while was a peroxide blonde whose sole claim to fame was the ability to gyrate her abundant, perfectly round ass. We were singing heavily sexual parodies of famous songs by the tender age of eight, and doing the “bottle dance” by age twelve. Many of the girls I knew in school had been playing “doctor” with their little boyfriends, others I met as teenagers kept a log of how many boys they’d kissed in one night. But our boyfriends, even after age eighteen, were not allowed to sleep over, or us at their place. Meanwhile, almost all the women I knew had been cheated on, and the understanding was that we should keep our men on a tight leash to prevent the same thing happening to us.
More than 15 years after I’d left Brazil, I found myself sitting with a male acquaintance at a restaurant during a trip, dissecting my latest romantic misadventure. Minor infidelity, habitual little lies, mind games and major jealousy had eroded the relationship beyond repair. I hated myself for repeating neurotic behaviors I’d vowed, time and time again, never to repeat, compounded by my passive-aggressive partner’s use of my jealousy and insecurity as a weapon against me. My acquaintance, a sociologist who’d grown up in southern Africa, had chosen to opt out of the monogamous relationship model: He and whatever partner he was with at the time were allowed to see whomever else they pleased, without having to give any explanation; not talking about it was actually preferred. It’d been like this since his early days of dating.
“I can’t understand why people continue to submit to this outdated, 19th-century idea of relationships,” he told me during our long conversation. “Monogamy is against our nature.”
How much heartache could be avoided, I pondered, if people could just own up to the fact they don’t want or cannot bring themselves to be faithful to one partner? Why not just be honest about it to the partner, like this guy had been doing? Still, he tried hard but did not succeed at converting this serial monogamist to his practice. The idea, however, stuck to me even as I hit rock-bottom during the last days of yet another failed relationship and immediately started another. I longed to get rid of my jealousy once and for all, perhaps by trying something that to me would be “extreme,” with the added benefit of allowing myself and my new partner to freely explore other horizons if we wanted to.
It turns out this is a relatively hot issue, with lots of resources online for the curious like me. I began to read many articles about “open relationships,” its possible advantages and disadvantages, its different types, the boundaries, rules and social acceptance. But despite my enduring attraction to the idea, and even saying it out loud to my new partner, I couldn’t put it into action. A line I found recently in an article that appeared on Salon regarding the topic really resonated with me, because that’s what I feel the main obstacle for me has been (besides the fear of contracting an STD):
“In my situation, it was less that I felt my relationship… was threatened and more that I felt my own confidence, or rather my relationship with myself, was threatened,” wrote the autor, Gabrielle Robin. “What I doubted was not his love of me but my own desirability and my worthiness to be loved. Personal issues that powerful wouldn’t disappear simply by requiring complete monogamy.”
When discussing open relationships, I encountered diverse scenarios among people I know. There were cases where only one partner pursued other sexual encounters, and the other was ok with it; where they’d discussed it and were open to the idea, but hadn’t yet tried it; where one would like to suggest it to the other, but thought the other would be too insecure to want to try it; where the person had tried an open relationship and then decided never to be in a monogamous relationship again; where the swinging couple had done it throughout their marriage; and where the couple had decided that they would admit to each other whenever they were powerfully attracted to someone else, but quash every such impulse, because they thought there was more worth in self-control than in indulgence.
I am currently in a happy monogamous relationship, and don’t think I could be comfortable with trying an open relationship until being able to work out the issues I know I have with myself, and with sex. What are your thoughts? Have you tried it before? Would you try it? What do your friends say about it? Would you recommend it to others?