Getting some on the side, with permission.
June 28, 2016 1:03 PM   Subscribe

My spouse has given me permission to have sex outside of our marriage, has expressed a desire for me to do so. This is not something that I have necessarily wanted to do, but I believe it is something I should consider for reasons I will explain inside. Have you or someone that you know done this? If so, what are the pitfalls? What are some good ground rules? What worked and what didn't? What should I consider before taking this step?

We have been together for nearly 20 years and married for most of that time. We have a family and a generally good life together. Our marriage has had its troubles but we have remained monogamous to date and are beginning to improve communication and working things out together. We may even seek counseling, separately or together, in the future.

The sex we have has never been bad, and in fact it was often amazing when we were having it, but is has grown ever more infrequent with each passing year. My spouse has a much lower sex drive than I, and it has been a cause of anxiety for both of us. Me because I desire greater intimacy, and also release (which I can achieve solo). My partner because they want me to be happy and also want to be free from the pressure to provide that which they feel they cannot or to be who they are not. This perceived failing or limitation has been a source of great unhappiness for my spouse. This makes me unhappy on their behalf. I also feel that this pressure that they feel is counterproductive to a healthy relationship and also to the intimacy that I crave.

We are working on our marriage in ways that potentially could improve intimacies of all kinds, but increased sex frequency is not a shared goal, and I recognize that even if everything else improves, we still may be a gross mismatch of libido, and I may be in a hopelessly and permanently sexless marriage. I don't want my partner to feel the stress and inferiority of feeling like I am going without something that I need.

Also, this idea is something that my partner has suggested repeatedly over the years. I have dismissed it because I feel like I would be devastated if they shared physical intimacy with another person. I also used to take it as a personal affront, as though sex with me was so horrible that infidelity were preferred. But they have recently reiterated this suggestion with clarity that they would be perfectly happy with me having sex with other persons, and in fact it might make them more at peace with their role and their performance in our marriage if I were doing so. So I feel that I need to hear this and give it due consideration.

A lot of people would jump at this chance. I am certainly capable of pulling it off. I still have my looks (somewhat) and am involved with activities outside of the home where I do meet attractive, unattached members of the opposite sex. However, I'm a little afraid that this is playing with fire.

I haven't committed to this idea yet, but I am committed to my partner, their happiness (mine, too), and to our marriage. So I am trying to be open minded. Here is what I ask of the hive mind:

What do I need to consider before making sure this is right for me/us?

What is the correct way to seek and have sex outside of the marriage and keep things intact (spouse's feelings, jealousy, family, etc).

What are the pitfalls to avoid?

What are some things that I should consider trying first, before this last resort?

Book recommendations, personal anecdotes, and pickup lines that actually work (I'm a little rusty) are also appreciated.

Throwaway email:

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

There are a bunch of books out there about open relationships that you both should read before doing this... they come from different angles and belief systems, so choose one that seems most relevant to your situation. Most will be more comprehensive than you can get from an Ask.

My interpretation of your situation, along with my personal experiences with open relationships, make me think that the safest-to-your-relationship, and most ethical to your other partners, course would be to use sex workers rather than seducing people in your local community. There's less opportunity for misunderstandings that way.
posted by metasarah at 1:25 PM on June 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

Opening Up and the Ethical Slut are the two usual book recommendations.

Communication, communication, communication!!!

What exactly does Spouse (S) want? You to be in a relationship long term with someone else? The occasional intimacy with people? Are close acquaintances/friends ok? How romantic can you get with them? Does S want to know the gritty details, or just 'I'll be home at x time Friday'?

What are S's limitations? How much time and emotional energy can you devote to this quest? How prone to jealous and insecurity is S?

What will you be happy with? Comfortable with? What if you fall in love?
posted by Jacen at 1:35 PM on June 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

It seems you've gone to great pains to hide the gender of yourself and your spouse. You might have totally legitimate reasons for doing so, but know that this is the sort of thing where your experience could vary a lot based on what your gender is, so the advice you get here might be of limited value. FWIW my advice is based on the assumption that you are a man and your spouse is a woman.

You need to specifically seek out other married people who are in open relationships, not random single women you do activities with. Very few of these women want to sleep with married men in open relationships. Some do! But really, very few, and you risk being ostracized from the group once word gets around that you're a married man looking for a side piece. That's probably unfair, but such is life. However, other married people in open relationships will be much more sympathetic to your situation and more likely to meet you on your terms. You will almost certainly need to take to the internet to find these women or to find safe places or groups where you can meet them. Be prepared to put in some time and effort into finding the right women. You are a buyer in a seller's market and suitable partners are unlikely to just fall in your lap.

One thing that makes me think you're not quite ready for this is that you've framed it as wanting intimacy rather than just sexual pleasure. If you just wanted sexual pleasure, I think you could form mature, mutually beneficial arrangements with women without getting overly attached. If you are the kind of person that values and wants sexual relationships that are more than just physical, be prepared for what you'll do when you fall in love with someone you've slept with because you will almost certainly will and it could wreck your entire life. Men especially tend to overstate the extent to which they can detach sex from love and are often especially at risk of "accidentally" falling in love with the people they are having sex with.

With that in mind, probably the safest route for you is to pay a sex worker. This will give you all of the benefits of sex outside your marriage without the risks of emotional attachment that might occur if you hook up with a person in an open marriage. Even if you don't want to see a sex worker long-term, going to one a few times would probably be a good way to ease yourself into what it is like to have sex with someone else after being in a monogamous relationship for so long. Testing the waters, getting familiar with your likes and dislikes, learning how to negotiate, these are all skills you'll need should you later decide to pursue a sexual relationship with someone who is not a sex worker.
posted by scantee at 1:38 PM on June 28, 2016 [27 favorites]

The advice to seek a sex worker is spot on. You don't sound poly, frankly, and what you are proposing will end in extreme heartache all around...

For example - why would you be seeking unattached partners? Your perspective on this seems all wrong. Seeking out a sexual relationship with unattached people will lead to emotions and attachment. You yourself say that sex represents intimacy to you. I think you're just prolonging the misery with this plan.

Your spouse has unilaterally changed the nature of your partnership. That deserves deep thought on your part.

Sex is very powerful. You don't strike me as the type to have sex without eventually falling in love. Cue lots of pain and hard decisions.

You can skip all of this in a thousand ways, but none are foolproof from love and emotional attachment. Even keeping your affairs to married people in similar circumstances to your own (there are apps and websites to connect folks like you) will not inoculate you from falling in love, or keep them from falling for you.

That's my 2 cents. I think you should explore this in therapy. I believe doing this is not in your personal best interests.
posted by jbenben at 1:45 PM on June 28, 2016 [13 favorites]

We may even seek counseling, separately or together, in the future.

This is step #1, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Do this before you engage in any sexual activity outside your marriage. It will benefit you, it will benefit your relationship with your spouse, and the skills you develop in the process will help to prevent you from hurting yourself or anyone else as you navigate what is certain to be a very complicated process.
posted by jesourie at 1:50 PM on June 28, 2016 [39 favorites]

A friend's spouse was going for their doctorate, told friend they could get sex elsewhere but not to develop feelings for the other person/fall in love. That ended up happening, and they are now divorced, by friends choice.
posted by blueberry at 2:04 PM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

There is a very real possibility that you'll have sex with someone new and find that you want to leave the sexless marriage and have a primary relationship with someone that will have sex with you.

That's something you both have to be willing to accept before you open this Pandora's box. If it does turn nasty, your locality's divorce laws may leave you at a disadvantage for having "cheated." Your children may blame you for ruining the marriage too.

Going to a sex worker isn't going to give you the intimacy that you crave.

As scantee noted, your ability to attract a secondary relationship for sex will depend a lot on your gender. You also need to be careful that you don't end up effectively using someone as a sex toy - being a sex only secondary partner can be a raw deal for that person.
posted by Candleman at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

My simple advice: if you want to enhance the chances that your marriage will be made better rather than worse by this move, FIRST get your marriage in a very very good place BEFORE starting on the sex. That will (a) ensure that you have good communication throughout the process, (b) reduce jealousy, (c) reduce the risk that you will fall in love with someone else.
posted by sheldman at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

It sounds like physical intimacy with your spouse is a big part of what you're missing from sex (with them). It sounds like quite a painful situation, I'm sorry. Are they willing to meet you some of the way, with expressions of physical affection that aren't limited to genital sex, any room for compromise there at all? Perhaps counselling could help with negotiating that.

My partner because they want me to be happy and also want to be free from the pressure to provide that which they feel they cannot or to be who they are not. This perceived failing or limitation has been a source of great unhappiness for my spouse. This makes me unhappy on their behalf. I also feel that this pressure that they feel is counterproductive to a healthy relationship and also to the intimacy that I crave.

This also sounds painful, and I guess I agree with you, taking the pressure off would probably help (as would, again, counselling for them, and you both...). But does this necessarily mean you have to go to a third party? I'm wondering if this might be a bit like that comb story of O Henry's... maybe just taking a good break from sex of any kind (and explicit, unmediated talk between you of sex, or your respective hopes and fears around it) for a while, while you seek individual and couples therapy, could shift things a bit.

(Lastly - and it's probable this would sound like yet another kind of pressure coming from you, given the situation, so I'm reluctant to mention it, except that it often does help - libido is often increased with regular exercise. [Maybe you could just share all these answers with your spouse :/])
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:12 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Work on the relationship to get a good grounding before even considering opening it up. Sex is only one form of intimacy, you framing it as exclusively sexual makes me wonder what intimacy your spouse feels they receive from you. I also wonder how well you communicate; from your description you want sex outside your relationship for intimacy and release, your partner wants you to be happy and not feel pressured by you. It seems odd that they have no internal motivations that you recognise and that both of you feel your wants should take priority over your spouse's (unspoken?) wants - is that due to miscommunication or their reluctance to be honest with you (again, back to the pressure they feel from you).

You also mention a family, and I assume you work and have a social life. Opening up the relationship means de-prioritising *something* in order to logistical and emotional space for a new activity/relationship. What are you willing to give up - time and energy you currently spend on your job, your kids, your spouse? Are family funds going to your new hobby and does your spouse have an equivalent "slush fund" and excess of time and energy, or are you planning on them also contributing their time, energy, and money to exclusively your wants? Ideally, any change in a relationship should be a win-win for both spouses - with your framing, this is setting the relationship up to fail.
posted by saucysault at 2:20 PM on June 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

It creeps me out that you might have sex with someone because you're being pressured to so. You cannot have sex with someone else in order to make your spouse feel better. It is not fair to you or to your partner to make sex about a third party's anxiety or stress.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:21 PM on June 28, 2016 [14 favorites]

I think the first question here is Do you want to have sex with someone else while married to your spouse? I mean...honestly, truly, do you think about it? Is there any bit of joy or excitement at the thought? The tone of your post sounds resigned. Going from one untenable situation to another doesn't sound great.

If you think this might bring you happiness then proceed. Find a way to try it in a way that reflects your values and see where you end up. (I agree that a sec worker is probably the most ethical path.)

But if it's more like "this is a last-ditch effort to make our marriage tenable" then it might be better to think about how to decouple in a way that keeps your coparenting and maybe friendship intact. There are all kinds of marriages and a sexless one works for some people. But if it doesn't work for you then it's not working.

Source: poly member of a mono-poly monogamish marriage.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:56 PM on June 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

Don't open up a relationship to save it! This is not a good plan. It is like the #1 rule of open relationships. You have to be on solid firm footing before it might be a good idea. This will add drama and heartbreak. This coming from an openly poly person. Nothing about what you've written makes this sound like a good idea. Right off the top - you seem unclear on level of emotional involvement, unclear on attachment, unclear on how it will leave you feeling. You keep talking about the other half of this equation as interchangeable and a person to be used to fulfill a need in your marriage. That is sketch. Neither you nor your partner is thinking of this hypothetical third person as a complete three dimensional human with their own needs and wants.

If what you're looking for is intimacy, a sex worker is a good bet. You will pay more for someone to do the emotional labor, as you should. You might also investigate a swingers club where you and partner could explore you having sex with others who are just interested in sex and maybe have some intimacy via proxy. (Again, I must stress that you must be completed upfront about what you're seeking. Absolutely do not use anyone towards this end who is not enthusiastic about it themselves.)
posted by stoneweaver at 3:12 PM on June 28, 2016 [14 favorites]

Time: There are only so many hours in the week. It takes around 15 to 20 hours a week to establish and maintain an intimate relationship. No matter how you are spending your time currently, you will need to take time away from something if you are going to have an intimate relationship on the side. If you are "the marrying kind," odds are good that emotional attachment is critical to your ability to enjoy sex with someone. If so, random pickups or hiring a sex worker may not suffice.

Money: A relationship on the side tends to cost money. That money may be for hotel rooms or meals eaten out or any number of things. Typically, the man pays for most of it. If you are male, can you afford to spend money on this?

I read an article about a married man who had an affair with a coworker. He was not comfortable taking time away from his wife and child. He also was not comfortable pursuing intimacy with this woman while on the clock and being paid by his employer. So, he mostly spent time with her in hotels while traveling for business. It was time he wasn't going to give to either his employer or family anyway.

The point of that story is that while it is possible to do this ethically, pulling that off will involve seriously thinking through a lot of constraints and finding an answer that satisfies all constraints simultaneously. It is no small task.

Another thing to consider: If your sex on the side is discovered by someone in your social circle, will your spouse admit to being 100% on board with this or otherwise back you? Your spouse may say "yes" now, but the fact that you posted this anonymously suggests you do not want anyone knowing. Think hard about the logistics involved in making this happen and keeping it a secret, as well as what this means for the fabric of your life if it comes out.

You might find it interesting to read up on articles about Andrew Wyeth and his neighbor Helga who posed for him in the nude for over 200 paintings. Neither his wife nor Helga's husband knew until the collection was completed. As far as I know, none of them has confirmed an affair and when the paparazzi shoved a mic in Andrew's wife's face at the premiere looking for dirty laundry and asked her what she saw in the collection, she said "Love." Helga remained a friend of the family and helped take care of him in his old age as his health failed.

As I understand it, no one knows if they were lovers, but many people assume they were. His marriage withstood the assumptions and prying and people hoping to not only find drama but create it. Will your marriage blithely withstand such scrutiny if it comes out that you are spending an unseemly amount of time with other people, not your spouse?

Your spouse's private permission is a necessary but insufficient prerequisite for making this work. Most of society has pretty strong opinions about the sexual behavior of any of its members. That fact can lead to enormous drama.

As noted above, your gender will significantly impact how this plays out. Studies show that a woman can walk up to a man, ask for sex, and get a "yes" about 75% of the time. The 25% who turn her down will frequently say things like "Can I take a raincheck? My fiancee is in town." If a man walks up to a woman he doesn't know, the answer is "no" 100% of the time and he might also get slapped or cussed at.

If you are male, you may find it difficult to find women who are genuinely okay with being the other woman with no expectation of this leading to more for them. If you are a woman, my experience has been that getting sex is not difficult, but getting respect from fuckbuddies can be difficult. So, if you are a woman, you may find that men are happy to sleep with you, but not so cooperative about details like protecting your public reputation, using a condom, respecting your position that you value your marriage, etc.

If you pick up an STD or if a pregnancy results where you are one of the parents and your spouse is not, things will get wickedly complicated. So, you need to think about protection against those two possibilities.

My personal definition of an "open relationship" hinges on emotional openness and honesty. The one relationship I had that met that standard was "open" in terms of involving other people without drama. Relationships that failed to meet that standard while involving other people resulted in all kinds of drama, lies, manipulation, etc.

As others have noted, you do not sound like you have great communication with your spouse. Without that foundation, this is likely to go bad places.
posted by Michele in California at 3:25 PM on June 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think the first question here is Do you want to have sex with someone else while married to your spouse? I mean...honestly, truly, do you think about it? Is there any bit of joy or excitement at the thought? The tone of your post sounds resigned.

Yeah, you sound super resigned here buddy. No one wants to have sex with someone who has resigned themselves to it. I assume that is something you do not want to do with your own spouse, having sex with them while they just resign themselves to it. Probably why there has been a drawdown in sex as of late. But the solution is not to take that resignation on yourself and inflict it on a third party.

I mean, I don't know, I'm not in your marriage, but you should be at least cheerful when contemplating having sex with someone else, and you describe your feelings toward this extramarital sex as "release". Yikes.

I wouldn't do this.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:14 PM on June 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

So basically your spouse is all, "I really just am never going to want to have sex with you enough, I want you to be happy and get some elsewhere" and you sound about as thrilled at this as you would going to the dentist for a drilling. I can see spouse's logic behind that, but you sound at best apathetic at the idea, and I don't think you sound like you want to.

I have seen a friend of mine get some extracurricular nookie at a spouse's HEAVY urging, and in all honesty, I don't think she's super enjoying that even though she tells me it has its moments. I don't think it's something you want to try doing if you're not happy about it, even if you're hornier than anything and spouse doesn't want to ever again. This isn't so fun if it's not your idea/you're being kinda coerced into it.

Don't do it yet. Go to marital counseling first and work this out with a neutral party.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:56 PM on June 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

A relationship that has a major weakness is very vulnerable to being wrecked by something like this. If you've been struggling, the relative ease and excitement of something new can make leaving seem like a really great idea. My partner and I are polyamorous, but we have only ever opened our relationship when it was at its strongest. When we're struggling, we have needed to focus on the two of us.

My partner and I used to struggle with the differences in our sex drive. I recently answered another AskMe question with the story of what resolved this for us, and I'm going to link and copy that here, with the caveat that, if you are the one who hopes for more sex, it's not inevitable that the outcome of choosing to support each other in the way my partner and I did will lead to more sex. We are a sample size of 1. But this is what I want to offer you, in support of the people up-thread who've said that you need to do therapy first.

If you do decide to open your relationship, be sure that you've talked it through really well first. What are your parameters and expectations? Does your partner want to hear about who you're seeing, or not hear about it? How much of your time will be available to spend with someone else? Will your spouse have "veto power" over your second relationship—some couples give each other this power. Do a lot of reading and talking about how this works before you get into a situation you're not prepared for.

Here is what I said in that other AskMe:

My partner and I have been together 23 years. We've been through mental health crises, gender transition, the arrival of three babies, my long struggle with chronic pain... there have been sadly long periods of time with no, or with infrequent, sex for us.

A few years ago, he took me out to coffee to talk about the issue. He had identified our problem—he had a diagram—which is a variation on the usual kind of challenges when partners have different sex drives. What would happen for us is that we'd have sex, and it would be great (the quality of our sex was always epic). We'd have sex again the next night. Great! Maybe a third night. Woo-hoo!

Now, for me, at this point, I'm like, "Oh, hey, that was some good sex. I feel satiated." For him, though, the more sex he has, the more sex he wants. So on Night Four (or whatever) we would find ourselves once again in the uncomfortable position of having different wishes.

Extra complication: I have a history of being the less-sexual partner in relationships, and it's stressful. He, on the other hand, is pretty much up for sex any time. In addition, physical intimacy is a major way he feels loved and secure, so, when we were young, it was sometimes hard for him to hear me say no, so there was this residual fear for me that if I said no, he'd get upset. Rock and a hard place, right?

We figured out that:

1. I needed to know that it was OK to say No to sex. That I was still valued and loved if I didn't want to have sex.

2. He needed to know that it was OK to want sex, and that I valued and loved him even if I didn't want to have sex.

At that coffee date, we decided that we would take showers and go to bed together at 10:00 every night. Just to spend some time together. And we agreed that we would be there together and deal with any emotions that came up. So, if I was feeling tense and anxious, he would reassure me that it was OK not to be in the mood for sex. And, in turn, I would reassure him that, even if I didn't want sex right now, I really valued his sex drive (this turned out to be true, once I started talking about it). I told him that his high sex drive was like a wedge keeping the door open just a little bit, always holding the possibility of sex even during times when we weren't having it for whatever reason.

What ended up happening is that, as we got into bed, freshly showered, I would say, "I don't think I want to have sex tonight." And he would say, "That's OK," and do the whole reassuring thing. And then, as soon as I really felt that it was OK not to want to have sex, to say no to sex even if he wanted it, I would end up having sex with him.

I needed to feel really sure that it was OK to say No. And once I did, I discovered that I was pretty interested in sex myself.

We had sex every night for, like, a year and a half. It just kept getting better and better. All our old issues and fears and hurt feelings healed and faded away. It was quite glorious.

We didn't set out to have sex every night. Just to be in bed together, clean and naked, every night. And we learned how to have sex while respecting our differences.

Life, of course, happened to us eventually: my chronic pain flared up, the kids have needs (darn kids and their needs), and so on. We no longer have sex every night. Sometimes, when I'm not well, we don't have sex for weeks. But since the year-and-a-half of taking care of each other emotionally, asserting over and over that it is OK to want sex and it is OK not to want sex, we move back and forth much more easily between the times when we are and the times when we aren't.

Just now, I'm in a long period of increased pain and fatigue. I think we've had sex once since the new year. I did ask him to reassure me that old stresses weren't re-emerging, because I started worrying that he wasn't happy, and that we'd get back to this uncomfortable place where it was like a thing again. He was very reassuring. There was cuddling. It was good.

The short version:

1. My partner did a great job of putting into words what the underlying problems were.
2. We made a commitment to not be afraid of the emotions that came up for both of us around sex, but to help each other through them.
3. We made a commitment to be alone together every night for awhile.
4. We put a lot of effort into affirming each other's sexual energy, level of sex drive, and personal style. Instead of feeling his high sex drive as pressure, I began to see it as an asset of our relationship, for instance.

I don't have any idea how our process might scale to other people's relationships. But I am here to tell you that, in our late forties, my partner and I not only had a long stretch of the most frequent and best sex of our lives, but we also fell in love all over again. Limerence and I-can't-stop-thinking-about-you; the whole nine yards. Now we're back to a mellower state but hoo boy the happy memories, and also: hoo boy the renewed trust, appreciation, and intimacy.
posted by not that girl at 6:02 PM on June 28, 2016 [34 favorites]

I hate to tell you this, but I don't think there's much chance this plan will fix it for you.

Sex worker: it's not about that. It's about feeling wanted and loved. The sex worker will make you feel worse.

FWB: Jealousy issues. Your spouse says they just want you to be happy. But they don't know how they're going to feel when you're spending your time and your (shared) money on someone else. What if you can't do the household task on the weekend because you're going on a date? There will be resentments. Your spouse can't predict the fear they will have that you will be so much happier with the other person that you will just leave (and that's probably more likely than not to come true.) The spouse will say it's ok if you keep it physical, but no "falling for" the other person in a more emotional "relationship" way. The opposite of what you need.

One night stands - is the best you're going to get. When it happens by chance, go for it. Don't bother spending money and time cruising the bars like a 20-something, you'll just hate yourself and look like a cliche.
posted by ctmf at 9:19 PM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

It seems as if you both have the steps backwards. I see the order this way:

1. Individual therapy. For self awareness.

2. Couples therapy. For intimacy (nonsexual, and maybe even nonphysical).

3. Discuss where you both stand after all this, and THEN look to alternative partners as a maybe possibility.
posted by Vaike at 12:13 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

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