Matched with someone hot during your loo break Tinder session then noticed photo number five is a definite couple selfie? You might have swiped right on a particularly flagrant cheat but chances are, you probably haven't.
Open relationships, where you have one committed partner but have sex with other people, are a common form of non-monogamy. This umbrella term can mean anything from multiple adult households to sleeping with someone who isn't your partner once every few years.
Statistics on open relationships are scarce but when YouGov and Huffington Post US interviewed 1000 people on the topic, they found that three per cent were in an open relationship, 10% had been in one previously and 14% would consider it.
We asked open relationship coach Victoria Rosa everything you've ever wanted to ask your mates who've 'opened things up', from how to handle jealousy to whether you should tell your mum.
How should you raise the idea of an open relationship with a partner?
Just bring it up with your partner by talking about open relationships, perhaps by saying that it's something that you're curious about or that you've been reading about. If that seems really daunting it's probably better to start just talking about intimate stuff in general first. For example, if having a conversation about sex is super angst-ridden then you're probably not ready to talk about open relationships.
What rules should people have in an open relationship?
People vary wildly. Sometimes when I'm doing workshops on boundaries and negotiation, I'll say 'for me, certain things are pretty straightforward, like don't sleep with my parents or my siblings’ but some people say 'I wouldn't have a problem with that!'. Whereas other people don’t want it to be anyone in their town, anyone they know or any of their friends.
Other people think it's better if they're a friend because then they feel they can trust them and know that they’re not going to try and sabotage the relationship. What people want in that regard is completely varied and it's all valid. It's just best to discuss it openly. Can it be somebody we know? Can it be a friend? Can it be a colleague? Can it be an ex?
What sets one person apart as being the boyfriend or girlfriend?
What's important to you in a relationship? What's the difference for you between a relationship and a friendship? Some people say it's intimate romantic feelings, that's certainly the case for me. It’s probably something that makes you feel special and different, so it's good to know what that is so you can ask your partner for that rather than feeling insecure about it.
Should you declare that you’re in an open relationship when using dating apps?
It's better to declare it upfront because one thing that can really make your partner very jealous and insecure is if you start seeing someone who's monogamous who then decides that they want you for themselves. That's a very direct threat to the relationship so it's much better to be meeting people who are on the same page who aren’t looking for a relationship or also have a partner.
Are there any dating services for people in open relationships?
Yes, the polyamory community use OkCupid a lot because it lets you filter out everyone but non-monogamous people and declare who your partner is and link to their profile. There are other more sex-focused ones like AdultFriendFinder and then FetLife which is more for the BDSM kink community. But otherwise I do know lots of people who use Tinder and just declare openly in their bio that they’re in an open relationship.
Are there any other ways of finding new partners?
Most people just meet people in the course of their lives, or through dating apps. But if you're going out, there are certain environments that are more conducive. I’ve spent a lot of time in the BDSM community and there nearly everyone's non-monogamous. Then there are ‘play parties’, like the Kinky Salon in London, I would say nearly everyone's non-monogamous there.
How can people cope with jealous feelings?
The first thing you need to do is to accept that you're feeling jealous and make it safe for yourself and your partner to express that. There's a lot of shaming in our culture around being jealous but that just makes people feel worse about feeling the way they're feeling. Whereas, if you can support your partner and express what sets your relationship with them apart and what makes them special, you can give them some positive reinforcement.
Is it dangerous to spend more time with other people than with your partner?
Some people might be in a long distance relationship with someone that they see every two months and also have a lover living in the same town who they see once or twice a week - but their partner is still the person they’re most committed to. It's more about the feelings and the commitment than it is about frequency, though for some people if they see someone more then they'll develop feelings for them.
How can you keep other sexual relationships from becoming more?
I don’t like to impose artificial boundaries. If you're starting to feel more than you want to, maybe reduce the frequency with which you see that person or meet them in contexts where you won’t be able to have hugely intimate conversations. Maybe if you're spending the night, then don't stay until 4pm the next day. Give yourself time between one meeting and another so that feelings have a bit of time to simmer down before you meet them again. Play it by ear.
How can you protect yourself against STIs?
Decide what are you going to do with who and what you’re going to use with each of them. Most people just say they’ll use condoms, but condoms for what? Condoms for oral sex? Condoms for penetration? What kind of penetration? Some people are not very consistent. They might say 'well, as long as you don't intend on coming' or 'it's ok for like a minute or two', You just need to get quite specific and bear in mind that oral sex can transmit STIs.
Get tested for STIs every six months and make sure that includes HIV, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis. It's not worth getting tested for herpes and HPV because generally the majority of people have them after being sexually active for about five years, it’s just a bit of a risk that you take when you have sex. It's also good to get a hepatitis B vaccine if you can, you can ask for this at a GUM clinic.
Can an open relationship be used to save a struggling relationship?
That can be quite a dangerous path to go down because usually if there's something wrong in the relationship, engaging with other people can be a way of turning away from the relationship. There's nothing wrong with getting your needs met through several people, we all do it.
For example, if you really like camping and your partner doesn't, you might have a camping buddy that you just go to festivals with and have sex, and then you come home with your partner afterwards. That kind of thing is fine but if you're not getting enough affection, opening the relationship may be a way of not dealing with those issues.
What should you do if you develop feelings for someone else?
First of all, tell your partner and decide what you want to do. It’s a good idea to tell them as things are happening because most likely they'll pick up on it anyway, they'll just see your face when a text comes in. If you're not straightforward, trust is going to go down the drain.
Be compassionate with yourself and with the other person as well. I think people often don't realise what it's like to be the external party and if you're developing feelings for someone who's in a relationship, that's also not a very nice place to be in.
Developing feelings for someone else doesn’t necessarily mean that there's something wrong with your relationship, people do polyamory where they fall in love with multiple people and they maintain those relationships for decades sometimes. There are a lot of studies around the different stages of relationships that suggest just because you're in one stage with one person doesn't mean you can’t be in a different stage with someone else.
What classic mistakes do people make at the start of an open relationship?
One thing that people are really tempted to do is to have a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy with their partner. That tends to lead to hiding what's going on from the other person so then it can end up being a shock, like 'oh I thought maybe you'd slept with one person in six months but you're sleeping with someone every week!'.
It also makes it a lot more difficult to speak about a condom breaking if you haven’t even told your partner that you were seeing someone. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail, you might just say 'I’m meeting someone new'.
Do people usually tell their friends and family that they're in an open relationship?
Mostly to parents they wouldn't, they might to some friends. Most people think it’s part of their sexual life, which they wouldn’t usually share with their parents. But you might want to tell your parents if you live in a smaller place and they might see you with someone else and think you or your partner are cheating.
You can find out more about Victoria and her work with open relationships at openandawesome.com
Feature image: iStock