“Is it okay if someone else bites my butt?”
“I mean, if it’s part of a game or something. But not if they’re just like, ‘You’re sexy. I want to bite your butt.”
My boyfriend and I have had seemingly all the conversations couples are supposed to have, from defining the terms of the relationship to comparing our dreams for the future, but I never imagined us having this one. Yet there we were, at the clothing-optional, sex-themed Mexico resort Desire Riviera Maya, having a discussion sparked by a game where guests actually were instructed to bite one another’s butts.
I have a hard time with monogamy. I met my partner at a time when I was still exploring my sexuality, and I sometimes wonder what experiences I’m missing out on because of him. But I can’t do polyamory either. He hates the thought of me with someone else, and I can’t blame him because I feel the same way.
What options are left for us, then? Apparently, one option was to go to a sex resort and be monogamish.
The term “monogamish” describes couples who are not entirely monogamous or polyamorous. “It means to be in a relationship that is mostly monogamous but that allows for some small amount of sexual openness,” explains Zhana Vrangalova, adjunct professor of psychology at NYU and host of the Science of Sex podcast, who coaches people interested in exploring monogamish lifestyles. Different couples define this arrangement differently, though. Monogamish couples might flirt with other people, kiss other people but not go further, go to sex parties but only have sex with each other, have threesomes, or occasionally get hall passes to sleep with other people.
Vrangalova has seen increasing numbers of people interested in exploring monogamish relationship models. “I think it's a mix of more people acknowledging that complete monogamy is not feasible or desirable for many of us and society becoming more open to alternative relationship lifestyles,” she says.
“For some, long-term monogamy is difficult and can become stagnant and sexually boring, leading to non-consensual sexual behaviors, such as infidelity or sexting,” explains Markie Twist, professor and sex therapy program coordinator at University of Wisconsin-Stout. Monogamish arrangements can reduce the temptation these people might feel to stray. “Individuals in monogamish relationships recognize that sex is a basic human need, similar to eating, and that if there is mutual agreement of extradyadic sexual activity, their relationship may actually be enhanced,” Twist says.
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Being monogamish isn’t for everyone. Different personalities tend to work best with different relationship models, says Justin Lehmiller, research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of Tell Me What You Want. For example, research has found that non-monogamous relationships work best for people who are sex-positive, thrill-seeking, and able to separate sex from emotion. People who fear abandonment and have trouble managing stress have a harder time in relationships that depart from traditional monogamy.
Monogamish relationships also tend to work best for those “in a happy, stable relationship who want to introduce a little bit of sexual novelty in their lives,” Vrangalova says. She recommends that both partners share what their desires are, find the overlap, and discuss how it went after trying it. Twist suggests starting with the smallest, least scary activities on your list and working your way up.
Like polyamorous relationships, monogamish ones require clear communication about what is and isn’t okay with each person (even if it’s as specific as in what contexts someone can bite their butt). Some couples run into conflict over misunderstandings about what they’re allowed to do with others, Twist says—and if someone crosses the boundaries that were agreed upon, it’s still cheating.
A word of caution: Some couples introduce monogamish elements into their lifestyles in order to save their relationships, but this often leads to more conflict instead, Twist tells me. “People who are monogamish still have struggles,” she warns. “It is a lot of work that some people are not up for.”
As for my own experiment with being monogamish, it didn’t get very far. The most we could brave was having sex in our room with the blinds open, tacitly inviting others to peak in. And sure enough, later that evening, a man flirtatiously told us we were “a very sexy couple” and our “lovemaking was very erotic.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t relish the ego boost. That experience may not have come close to full-on polyamory, but it was something I’d been craving.
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