If you're looking for a little more information on a few things, this is the place where I can tell you about it! Look out for #LetMeTellYaTuesday blogs!
Consensual Non-Monogamy: The Basics and Is It For Me?
Through work and personal conversations, I've seen an increase in interest in non-monogamy. There seem to be questions regarding different dynamics as well as the simple question: Is it for me?
We'll start with a PRO TIP: Don't try to open up your relationship if you're having relationship problems. Make sure you re-read that! This is key! Consensual non-monogamy requires solid communication skills, trust, and respect for boundaries. Unlike non-consensual non-monogamy (read: cheating), you and your partner(s) are fully aware of each other's sexual activity with others.
There are not only different types of consensual non-monogamy, but also within the different categories, things can look different, so take these definitions as a basic understanding without the possible nuances.
Here are the basics:
Polyamory: Engaging in multiple relationships (romantic and/or sexual) with multiple people with everyone involved being aware and consenting.
Open relationship: One or both partners in a couple engage sexually with other people. Sometimes there are strict rules around this, such as "don't ask don't tell" which requires that partners keep their extracurricular activities private and hidden from their partner, even though their partner has consented to the non-monogamy. Rules look different for different couples.
Swinging: When a couple engages sexually with other couples, generally with a focus on partner swapping.
Hot Wifing: This dynamic involves a wife engaging in sex with men not only for her enjoyment, but for the enjoyment of her husband who derives pleasure from watching her engage with other men.
Cuckolding: This takes hot wifing a step further, generally adding humiliation into the mix as an additional contribution to sexual pleasure for the couple.
Now that I've shared a few ways consensual non-monogamy could look, a couple questions to ask yourself before talking to a partner about opening up are:
1) Do I feel happy and safe in my current relationship (assuming you're in a monogamous relationship currently)?
If the answer is no, this is not the time to open up the relationship. You'll need a solid foundation, great communication and lots of trust for this to be a positive experience.
2) Is this one of those things where the fantasy might be better than the reality?
Many times I find that people are into things "in theory," but when push comes to shove, it's just not for them. This is definitely something to consider.
3) Am I able to respect boundaries and set boundaries?
This requires not only boundary setting, but respecting of boundaries. If your partner says they aren't interested in either all or part of what you expect from consensual non-monogamy will you be able to manage that? Are you confident in your ability to share what your boundaries are and that your partner will respect them? You and your partner may have very different ideas about what you'd be comfortable with, so make sure you're open to that.
4) Am I too jealous for this?
This is one I get a lot! In the polyamorous realm, there is the term compersion, meaning the joy of seeing your partner experience joy. So you have to ask yourself if you and your spouse can find positive feelings about each other's experiences. For some the jealousy is part of the arousal and for others it kills the arousal. You need to figure out how it works for you.
My final note is this: If you're interested in consensual non-monogamy and either don't know how to talk about it to your partner, or maybe you have and both of you just don't know where to start, a sex therapist can be an excellent resource for additional information and support!
IPV: What Is It and How Do I Know If I've Experienced It?
What is IPV? IPV stands for intimate partner violence, which is physical, sexual, or psychological harm perpetrated by an intimate partner or spouse. IPV can impact anyone, and recent statistics from The National Domestic Violence Hotline show that IPV impacts more than 12 million people each year. The reality is that many of us have either experienced or know someone who has experienced IPV.
What are some examples of experiences of IPV?
pushing, punching, hitting, kicking, blocking exits when you're trying to leave, pulling hair (generally being physically aggressive with or without weapons)
rape or coercive sex, controlling or tampering with birth control, sexual humiliation (unless consensual)
verbally degrading or abusing partner, threatening, intimidating, gaslighting, minimizing, withdrawing affection, emotional manipulation, constantly blaming you for their actions
As mentioned, these are just some examples; they are not all encompassing, but you get the gist. Some things that come along with experiencing IPV are depression, anxiety, flashbacks, lack of trust, difficulty in relationships, and low self-esteem. Again, this is not an all encompassing list. If you feel that you've experienced IPV, a relationship/sex therapist could be a helpful resource in getting you back into an empowered space that will help you to be better able to feel safe and confident around engaging in new relationships.
Sex Therapy and Sex Surrogacy
Let's start with this: sex therapy and sex surrogacy are two different things! Both are extremely beneficial in their own right, but when a sex therapist and a sex surrogate work together some very powerful change can happen.
So what's the difference?
The basic difference is boundaries related to touch. While a sex therapist engages much like any other mental health professional to address sexual and relational concerns, a sex surrogate takes the change process a step further. A sex surrogate will engage in a more experiential way, that a sex therapist cannot. This can look like intimacy building between client and surrogate, affectionate and sexual touch, and actually being in the room guiding and supporting a client as they explore their sexuality in a variety of ways.
There are professionals on both sides of the fence with regard to thoughts about sex surrogacy. I, personally, am in the business of helping people no matter what that looks like. I see the value in sex surrogacy, as I believe that there are some clients that can truly benefit from this more experiential approach and make greater strides if this is an added modality to the work we are already doing.
Some might be wondering what types of clients could benefit most from sex surrogacy. This is very individualized. Some clients can get everything they need through traditional sex therapy. However, I believe that when there is severe anxiety related to a sexual or relational concern (particularly with clients who do not currently have a partner), or when a client expresses sexual concerns related to disability, injury, and chronic illness, sex surrogacy can be a very helpful addition to sex therapy. It helps client take what they are learning and discussing in sex therapy and put it into practice with someone who is trained to be a support throughout the process.
Unfortunately, in the United States, there are more stringent laws that make sex surrogacy a challenge. It seems that with more knowledge and discussion of its efficacy and beneficial contribution to sex therapy work. a case could be made to change laws associated with it. Here's to hoping! Until then, sex therapy alone can still be a huge step towards positive change with regard to concerns mentioned above.
I'll Tell You What I Want, What I Really Really Want
I've heard this time and time again: "I can't tell them what I like because I don't want to hurt their feelings or make them mad." My answer is this: "If they are so caught up in ego that your pleasure and comfort takes a back seat, is that someone you should really be sleeping with?" THE CROWD GOES WILD! I'm joking, but it's really that simple.
The key to satisfying sex is finding partners who prioritize your pleasure! A sign that someone does this is their ability to hear feedback and follow your lead. PRO TIP: Be the type of sexual partner you want! That means also prioritizing your partner's pleasure and being willing to take feedback.
I understand it's not always easy to take feedback or give feedback, GENERALLY, so you add sex to the mix and people tend to become uncomfortable more quickly. That being said, I've come up with a couple ways to make giving feedback and your partner's ability to receive that feedback a little easier.
1. If this is before or after a sexual encounter, you might say something like "I have some ideas of things we can try that I think will make our sex even better! (insert feedback here)"
2. If this is during an encounter, say things like "that feels great," "keep doing that," "go back to the other thing, that was doing it." Try to keep things with a positive spin, focus on what they're doing that is working for you. Additionally, body language goes a long way! You can guide their hands or shift your body to show them what works for you.
3. If a partner doesn't respond well to these ideas, try to understand why. Usually this is related to feelings of inadequacy, to which I would suggest a reframe. Consider saying something like "By giving this feedback, I'm not saying that our sex is bad or that you're not a good enough lover. I'm saying that I want us to be each other's BEST lovers and to do that, we both need to be more vocal about the best parts of the sex we are having and things that we can change up."
I hope these were some helpful hints! Switch up the language as necessary to make it feel authentic, but you get the gist. As always, if you need additional help, a relationship and/or sex therapist might be a great resource to consider!
Don't be afraid to tell them what you want!