From Issue 3.4 - May 1997

The Hows and Whys of Non-monogamy

By Karen and Naria Bullock-Jordan

So you've found the woman of your dreams [Note: this piece is written by and for dykes, but there's no reason the guidelines here can't be adapted for other types of couples]. She loves you, you love her, and you'll live happily ever after, getting all your needs met by one another, right?

Not necessarily! What if one of you discovers (or already has) an interest in SM that the other doesn't share? What if you're both tops or both bottoms? What if you just want to explore and share your energy with other people? What if she's committed to non-monogamy?

Non-monogamy may provide just what you need to make your relationship complete. We have such a relationship. One of us is a top-heavy switch, while the other is a top who flips for her partner on her partner's birthday. We're both sadistic and dominant, but neither of us is masochistic or the least bit submissive. When we got together, one of us was an experienced pervert while the other was a novice.

Non-monogamy has worked well for us, and we've been a committed couple for almost seven years. We won't suggest that non-monogamy is easy, because it's not. It requires a lot of work, integrity, honest self-knowledge and self-acceptance, and the ability to communicate. Based on our experience, we provide for you here -- at no charge -- what we consider to be the five most important guidelines for a responsible non-monogamous relationship.

1) Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate -- Think of this as the longest and most important scene you'll ever do. You need to think long and hard and be upfront about your desires. What do you need? What do you want? What are you comfortable with? Will you tell the juicy details or maintain a "don't ask, don't tell" policy? Are you limited to one gender? Are you as a couple a "package deal"? What if any activities are reserved for each other?

In our own relationship, we started out with ground rules that included not being penetrated, not bottoming to others, not having "vanilla" sex with others, and always having safer sex.

This negotiation process shouldn't be thought of as a one-time deal. The ground rules you start out with may last for the duration of your relationship, but you won't be sure that's what you both want unless you check in with one another.

You may decide along the way that some of them can be dispensed with. For us, one of the first to go for us was the no penetration rule, thanks to an "offers you can't refuse" from a hot chick in a lace bodysuit and a strap-on. Years later, one of us decided she was okay with her partner being sexually serviced by bottoms; the same is not true of the other of us. Sound unfair? The way we look at it, we have different ideologies around being fucked: one of us feels that just because you have your arm buried to the wrist in someone's cunt doesn't mean you'll remember each others' names next month. The other feels that you only get inside someone's body after you've gotten inside her heart.

1A) Make no assumptions. We never talked about emotional entanglements, assuming that neither of us could fall in love with one of our bottoms. Needless to say, we found out the hard way that this was not the case. By keeping in mind guideline 1), however, our relationship is in no danger of ending. Rather, it is in the process of evolution. Our options might include having a primary relationship with one another and secondary relationships with others, or having a primary relationship that includes three or more people.

2) Be honest with your outside "dalliances" -- Whatever name you use -- "tricks," "flings," "play buddies" -- it's only fair to let the other people you play with know about your relationship with your partner and what limitations you have in playing with them, so that they know where they stand and what they can expect from you. You can bypass this rule by only playing within a circle of friends who all know you and your partner and support your relationship -- this is the way we started.

3) Don't agree to something you're not comfortable with just to please your partner -- If you want to do something and your partner is uncomfortable with it, don't push. Above all, you need to take care of yourself. Agreeing to something you are uncomfortable with will only lead to resentment and anger. Remember, your priority is each other, and you're in this for the long haul. But be patient. What is uncomfortable for you now may not be six months or six years down the road. If there is something you absolutely must have and your partner doesn't agree -- or vice versa -- maybe you need to rethink your current relationship.

4) Don't use non-monogamy as a way to find a new partner before breaking up with your current love -- This is cowardly, immature, provides unnecessary drama within your community, and gives those of us living and struggling with ethical non-monogamy a bad name. If you are unhappy with your current relationship, have the ovaries to end it now. Don't drag innocent people into your soap opera.

5) Stick to the rules once you've agreed to them -- Mid-scene is not the time to decide that you want something that your partner hasn't already agreed to. Keep a tight rein on yourself and don't get carried away -- or take yourself out of the scene for a breather. Accidents do happen, in which case you should process what happened as soon as realistically possible. If you find that you're consistently having problems sticking to the agreed upon rules, you need to either go back to guideline 1) or re-evaluate your relationship.

There are other things that you'll have to consider, including what to do when traveling, whether you want to know the people your partner is playing with, and how to deal with issues of jealousy.

Above all, you and your partner must be committed to your relationship and committed to communicating with one another and working through any snags that come up along the way. So play hard, play often, and play safe!

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Last updated: 31 May 1997