Transformational Pleasure

By Melissa Fritchle LMFT Holistic Sex Therapist and Educator

What We Are Facing & How We Face It

From Conscious Sexual Self to Transformational Pleasure 

In the last 2 years I have had a crisis of faith that has taken me to some pretty dark places. My understanding of our human selfishness has shaken me, my clarity on the state of our changing environment has oscillated me between panic and numbness. And, on a personal level, my father died which as a rite of passage forced me to think about legacy and death and what I should do with the time I have. The answers were not quick to come, shifting from this to that in an existentially dizzying way.

In trying to grapple with this, I have had to honestly ask myself – in the face of the big changes that I think human life is going to face in the not so distant future – do I think helping people heal their sexuality is important enough?

And fundamentally I say yes.

And so this blog has been reborn, now as Transformational Pleasure. While I cannot do much to answer the question of how or whether humans can survive what is coming, I can say with faith that healthy, positive, joyful, free sexuality is a way to keep our humanity alive.

Pleasure of all kinds gives us reasons to live and keeps us engaged in the world. So it is not superficial. In facing oppression, owning your own pleasure and finding ways to claim it builds resilience. Taking in beauty, belly laughs, gentle touch, family recipes, time to paint for no reason other than it feels good, are ways of loving the world and each other. Far from superficial, we need these moments to fill us up and to motivate us to keep going.

Sexual pleasure in particular incites us to experience our own body, to find the gift of ecstasy waiting there for us. For many, myself included, sexual pleasure is the first experience of transcendence of our story, our ego, a brief glimpse into respite from the daily concerns. Touching our self for pleasure, is empowering. It uses no resources. It is abundantly there for us. And it is healing, reduces stress response and lowers pain sensitivity and all kinds of other good side-effects that I will write more about in another post.

And shared sexuality opens us up to giving and receiving pleasure from others. As we deepen our ability to communicate and be present for one another in sexual play, we strengthen those skills for other times. Entwined bodies build an ability for the heart to feel closer to others. Sexual interactions that are compassionate and not objectifying, expands our willingness to see others as both exciting and vulnerable. Sex bonds us, not through monogamy or commitment, but through intimate engagement with a fellow human. And oxytocin, released when we are physically close to another, which seemingly exists to enable this critical calling of connection and bonding. We need to feel connected. Empathy is important. As feelings of isolation and loneliness seem to be increasing, we need to do more to build this into our lives.

Sex positive attitudes ask us to imagine other people’s desires and needs as different and distinct from ours, and to stay in community with them. It invites questions and curiosity that might just bring brand new solutions and perspectives. Including others in our envisioning of a happy life is vital. And it is much easier to wish pleasure for others, if you have access to your own pleasure.

Let’s wish pleasure for others.

Please. Wish pleasure for us all. Let’s make this part of our mission as we all move forward into a new year and a new future. It just might save the best parts of who we are.


What is Passion?

Previously Published in SHE Magazine, Sept 2108

Melissa Fritchle, LMFT, Holistic Sex Therapist & Educator

Sex therapists are often asked to comment on how to increase passion or how to keep passion going. But often these questions are skipping a key component, which is - What is the experience of passion? How can we get more familiar with it so that we can invite more of it in?

Passion can feel like a deep well, where other interests are shallow. Passion feeds itself instead of quickly burning out. It is empowering, giving us courage and focus. In recognizing something we want, we can shed the old clothes of ambivalence or self doubt.

Passion is felt in the body, whether it is for a person or sex or a calling or an artistic endeavor, it is felt. Some people describe a quickening of pulse or breath, or a fluttering in the belly, or a rush of energy or heat in the core.

Something you are passionate about awakens you in some way. I sense that passion comes from things that bring us closer to our true selves, that expose us to ourselves in new ways. We are passionate in the now, we want to be there, we want to experience. We are called to show up. Passion stirs something in us that must feel real, that must invite a part of our self that is authentic and wants to come out to play. Passion invites us into our life.

Passion often feels new and edgy. There has to be something to learn there, something to remain curious about. Passion pulls us to dig deeper, go further, to create and keep creating. If we feel we have it all figured out, no surprises, I doubt passion will remain. Passion provokes us and stimulates risk.

Passion can scare us. In fact, the second dictionary statement on passion reads, “a strong feeling that causes you to act in a dangerous way.” And when talking to a friend about this, his first response was to question the difference between passion and obsession. Interesting. Passion grabs hold of us and feels outside of reason. Passion is not entirely a choice. But to me, passion is kind. It motivates us and channels us but doesn’t own us.

Passion is a flow fed by our elation.

Passion invites us to be uncontrolled – not out of control. There is a subtle but important difference here. Being out of control can hurt us. In that state we have no ability to gauge our own limitations and sensations or to do anything to mediate them. But choosing to be uncontrolled - Well, that is a beautiful thing. Letting go of control, temporarily, means we have already assessed that we are safe. That we can trust the environment, our body, our partners, our own capacity to feel and respond. Being uncontrolled means we can see what happens. We open our self to sensation; we allow our response in the moment.

Foundationally I have come to believe that passion is a choice we make about how we engage in the world. Choosing to look around us and find things to be excited about, rather than going through the motions trying to stay in the ease of the familiar. Choosing to let people see our excitement rather than playing it cool. Being curious enough to get inspired.

To live passionately requires us to pull down walls we build up, walls that have all the answers, that are cynical or bitter, walls that are shy or feel undeserving. We each have our blocks and ways we hold ourselves back. It takes conscious effort to prune away the limiting structures within ourselves. And it takes kindness to be gentle with our self in addressing the things we fear, the hurts that have shut us down before, the riskiness of being human.

Passion says “it is worth it” and reflectively I think we create passion by saying “this is worth it”. We want to give to that which draws our passion. And in giving, we receive more, and this feels good. When we are unwilling to give or invest or risk, we will be without passion.

So making space for this driving force in our life means first believing we have the energy to give. Believing that we are strong enough and brave enough and big enough to contain your passion and to express it. You draw your passion from within. And so before you choose where to channel or express your passion in the external world, you need to replenish your inner reserves. Tend to your self compassionately and honor the passionate relationship you have with yourself. Then you will have the spark you need to keep passion alive throughout your life. 

Getting Beyond "Its Complicated" - What Does it Mean When Someone Says They are Poly?

It is great to see more online dating sites offering an option for poly status, – OKCupid, Meet Mindful, Plenty of Fish as of now – inviting more honest, diverse possibilities for relationships from the moment people meet. In the media we are seeing more celebrities being open about their poly identities and we are finally getting some serious discussion on this significant aspect of human relationships. Ideally this cultural tide will invite more nuanced conversations among partners, potential partners, and our communities in general.

But what I am frequently seeing are assumptions about what “poly” means, similar to the quick assumptions we have been conditioned to make about monogamy. Guesses that are not acknowledged as guesses, like – Their poly must be the same as my poly. Their poly must be the same as my next door neighbors’ poly, or the poly I saw on that daytime TV story, or it just means they want to be able to cheat. None of these are helpful assumptions and they actually serve to limit the important conversations we could be having about how to create relationship structures that work for a range of unique individuals.

In my practice as a Sex Therapist, I have worked with a lot of confused people who are trying to navigate what feels like a new world for them. My foundational advice is this : If someone tells you they are poly, consider that just an opening into a series of questions to find out what that means for them. There is no one size fits all definition of poly that you can rely on as a shortcut. And that is a great thing!

Here are just some of the variations. Understanding them might help you be more proactive in your conversations with potential partners or friends who are sharing their poly status with you.

Mono Poly or Solo Poly – Someone who practices responsible non-monogamy openly with partners and does not choose to have commitments or established obligations with any partner. This does not mean that there are no agreements in the moment, for example agreements to practice safer sex practices are still a part of sexual negotiation.

Body Fluid Monogamy – When a person has one primary partner or partners with whom they have established that it is safe to share body fluid, because they share the same STI status, and so they choose to limit sexual activities with others to those that do not involve any body fluid exchange or risk of exchange.

Primary Partner/Co-Primary Partner – This means that someone has a committed relationship with more extensive agreements and emotional engagement with one person (primary partner) or possible with more than one person (co-primaries) while still having other sexual or romantic partners with whom they have more casual relationships. Rules will often be established to protect and privilege the primary relationship bond.

Open Relationship/Open Marriage – This just tells you that the conventional rules of monogamy do not apply. More information will be needed to know that this means for each person.

Monogamish – Current term relating to someone who has a primary committed romantic relationship with some sexual exploration with other partners allowed. Hopefully there will be established  understandings of agree upon boundaries but those will vary depending on the people involved.

Poly/Mono Relationship – A relationship in which one person is openly polyamorous and the other is monogamous with unique agreements made between them about limits.

Cellular Family or Closed Polyfidelitous Relationship – Generally denoting a committed bond, sexual, romantic and with long-term implications, amongst more than 2 people in which they may share a home, children, and creation of family. There is a lot of variation in how these relationships may be structured or experienced, for example who is sexual with whom, each person’s commitments to the unit, etc.

Swinging or In the Lifestyle – Frequently relates to established couples who otherwise practice monogamy with times of shared sexual activity with other partners. This is sexual exploration that they engage in together, often with either person being able to veto activities or partners in the moment. Often may involve parallel play while witnessing others, sex with partners in the same room or may involve private sexual interactions with new partners, for example in separate rooms such as a “key party” scenario when partners openly switch partners for the evening.

Group Sex, Play Parties or Adult Buffet – A group of consenting adults, sometimes established as a closed group, sometimes open to new members each time, who meet to engage in sexual play together. Each person is free to choose who to engage with in the moment. Frequently there are group norms about how to communicate interest or limits shared within the group.

Geographical Non-Monogamy or Friends with Benefits – These terms frequently refer to short-term agreements to allow for sex with partners without commitments while waiting for a potential monogamous relationship to be available, for example if someone is living far away from their romantic partner and they have agreed to have other sexual partners until they can be together or friends who agree to be sexual while each are openly looking for a romantic partner. Again, the established rules or understandings between partners can really vary here, open communication can really help.

Fair Warning : Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – While it is true that some people may directly agree to this type of arrangement in which neither person shares any details or maintains openly established boundaries, many times this is a set up for lying by omission. Secrecy can make it impossible to tell what is actually ok with other involved partners, or to create your own boundaries. Be careful before entering into relationship who says this is the way they “do poly”.

So these are just some of the many variations of what “poly” can mean. I hope you can use this information as inspiration to deepen your conversations around what you want from relationship and to stay dedicated to clear expression of what you are available for and to avoiding those easy assumptions. We all deserve the relationships we will thrive in. It is an ongoing gift to be able to work with people who are creating theirs, however they define it.


Emotions and Sex : Can Sex be a Place to Express How you Feel?

(Published in Sex Health Expo Magazine Fall issue)

Some of the couples I work with have been having sex that is more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional connection. There is a lot of strategizing, observing, fantasizing, worrying, critiquing, hoping… but not a lot of genuine expressing. I invite them to experiment with sexual play that consciously uses emotion to guide their sexual action, sharing with their partner how they feel in that moment.

In expressive sex, the focus is on using touch and body movements to communicate what you are feeling. The point of this is not actually that your partner reads you correctly, but that you feel more connected to your own experience. It actively makes sex a non-verbal way to connect and show a side of yourself. Approaching sex from this new perspective opens up a lot of potential and can allow a broader range of sexual moods and therefore, creative ways of interacting. Things get less boring and much more dynamic.

Most of us can easily imagine sex expressing love, lust, joy, curiosity, contentment. And yet, many of us hide even these feelings in sex. Maybe we are trying to play it cool or maybe allowing emotions to come through feels vulnerable. And maybe we have been taught that sex is a series of moves, like some vastly improved adult version of Twister, and we are too busy thinking about where to put our hand next, that we forget that we are emotional. But what a powerful medium sex provides to convey just how good you fucking feel! Sex can contain your overwhelm and turn it into ecstasy.

Try this : How might you touch your partner to express how drawn to them you are? Start at their face, use your fingertips as messengers to represent how attractive they are to you. Then bring your lips to their neck and shoulders; whisper secrets about how much you lust after them. Feeling love? Ask your partner to lay back and touch them all over, imagining that your hands are telling the story of all that you have shared together and how much they mean to you.

Positive emotional states are often the places that couples start with when they begin to explore sex as a vehicle for expressing emotion. But you may have also enjoyed sexual impulses  that stemmed from pride, power, vulnerability, need, fear, even anger. Are those ok for you to express with your partner? Why or why not? And how about more subtle emotional states, like doubt, loneliness, apathy, regret, irritation? Can you imagine touching sexually in a way that expressed and contained sadness?

Does imagining some of these emotions being included in sex make you uncomfortable? Ask yourself honestly; what range of emotions you have felt with partners? Were there times that you wish you had recognized some emotions as a cue to stop? Many of us have had that experience. Are there some emotions that you would feel ok expressing but would not want a partner to be feeling when they are with you? Why do you think that is?

Thinking and talking about what emotions are welcome in sex for you can be a great practice. It introduces questions about your motivations to have sex and how you want your partners to feel about you when they engage with you sexually. If you want to go there, it can also open up conversations about old wounds and fears and clarify boundaries. Being up front about emotions and choosing to bring them into sex as a way to increase the intensity can also make it easier to manage emotions outside of sex.

Try this : Start with a difficult emotion that is not directed at or inspired by your partner today – For example, frustration from a run-of-the-mill stressful day. Tell your partner you are feeling #)*@! about the day, not them, and you are going to let some of that steam out during sex play. Then see what it is like to hide your face in your partner’s body and growl. Bite gently. Be more forceful, a bit more selfish. Keep connected to your partner; take breaks to ask, “Is this ok?” Breathe deeply and let it all out in a battle cry. Maybe you can ask them to put pressure on your arms or torso so that you can push back or struggle.

Drawing on our more challenging emotions is best done when we feel safe and trusting. It requires that we have emotional reserves and a strong foundation in self-regulation skills. Having in depth conversations about triggering words, moods, or memories is necessary to avoid unintentional pain. People who are informed in the BDSM community may talk about psychological edge play, when someone consciously chooses to set up their sex play in a way that pushes into their emotional edges. This play can be incredibly healing as participants find a way to feel self-efficacy and choice in previously scary scenarios. It is also, by design, risky. I believe that getting support and working on personal insight is key, so consider finding a sex therapist who is kink friendly and understands sexual health and diversity.

 To be clear, sometimes it is a relief to separate from emotions and have sex that is clear and transcendent. Sex can provide a spiritual place, like meditation, or a pure physical release, like exercise when you are in the flow. And for many of us, we just want sex to be relaxing, thank you very much. That is totally okay.

But sexuality can also be a potent place to explore our emotions and our ability to share them with others. Expressive sex explicitly opens up creative touch, allows us to be emotional selves, to have moods and variations, to let the energy of feelings blend with the energy of sensations to create something possible new and unique each time you come together.


Was it good for YOU?

I was once at a late summer party in San Francisco in a group of people very much identified with sex-positivity. A man I didn’t know began talking to me and he looked around the room and said, “You know, I have slept with all but 3 of the women here.” Since I was included in that three, I can speculate where the conversation might have gone next. But since he didn’t know he was talking to a sex therapist, he seemed surprised by my response. I turned to look at him and I genuinely asked, “Wow. What did you learn about yourself from all that sex?” I didn’t mean to fluster or embarrass him; I was asking openly. But he became very uncomfortable, laughed it off with, “I learned I like sex” and immediately walked away. But I wish he had at least tried to engage with the question. Because I really did want to know.

The thing is I think a lot of us, no matter how sex positive or not, are not asking our self that question – what has sex taught me about ME? And so, are not allowing sex to work its real magic on us.

Sexuality is not simply a check-list of things we can do. It is not simply a way to prove ourselves viable as an object of desire. It is not to find what category you belong in or who you belong with. It is not just to prove that we can please someone else or that we can have multiple orgasms or that we can commit to one person or commit to four people or that we can be brave or express resistance to old cultural conditioning. It can be all these things at different times. But it can also be an incredible path to self-awareness.

Does that sound too heavy to you? It really doesn’t have to be.

What I am suggesting is that we bring our own sexuality into its rightful place on our list of “things that give us information about our Self”. It should also be on the lists : “things that will change through the course of my life with or without my permission, “things that are different in real life than in entertainment” and “things that might, when I least expect it, confuse the crap out of me”. You have those lists, right?

But really, it is ok - good even - to take a moment after sex to ask yourself, “How was that for me? What did I feel, discover, want more of? What did I find in myself that I may not have found before?” It is not so much that our partners are our teachers, although they may be, but that HOW WE RESPOND to different people, different moods, different environments, that can teach us.

Expanding our awareness through sex is an inside job. External variables are catalysts, but the combustion happens within you, in the way you open yourself up to something, or don’t. And this exploration creates the power within you to bring your own passion and pleasure to the party. It can even give you insight in to spiritual questions, inter-connectedness, personal needs and archetypes, nature, flow states, and so much more. Let sex feed you, inform you, inspire you. And then maybe, some summer, we can have some stimulating party talk.

An Invitation, A Reminder, A Prayer...

You can say it kindly. You can say it with a hipster ironic grin while wearing sensible shoes. You can say it forcefully and feel bad about it later. You can craft an argument with references and citation and voices more respected than yours. You can add “Fuck You” at the end of saying it. You can dramatically enact it through dance, vulnerable in your sweat letting them see your body if that’s what they need to stay interested. You can pass it quietly in a note in hopes of it reaching its intended audience. You can just say it again and again and again.

You cannot make them hear you. Not if they choose not to.

Say it anyway.

Say it because you need to hear it. Because it keeps you solid and engaged and believing in yourself. Say it because it is mother fucking interesting to you and it brings you to that place of awe. Say it because you are here and this present moment shouldn’t be wasted. Say it because you do not want to self destruct or drink yourself into a stupor like so many of the people you hoped to love. Say it because when you do it reverberates in your heart and that feels good; it feels like being alive.

For now your truth can be your own. Or you can tentatively or enthusiastically find places to share it where it just might be heard. Or you can lick your wounds and revel in being misunderstood if that is what your internal teenager needs today. You can be terrified of it and keep it in a tight space for now, observing it pacing there. Maybe it is content to be contained. Maybe not, maybe it is going to irritate you every day.

I know the people you needed to hear you didn’t. They didn’t, they couldn’t, they chose not to. I know. But even then, you continued to say it, to listen to yourself. And that is really important. Keep listening to what you have to say.

I know it doesn’t seem like enough. It may not be.

Say it anyway.

Up The Intensity - Using Breath & Sound

  Written for SHE Magazine April 17

Think of your voice and your breath as fun sex toys that you always have with you, cost nothing, and don’t require a trip, virtual or otherwise, to the sex store. Simple ways of making sound and directing your breath can quickly get you and your partner into another level of intensity. You just need to be brave enough to bring it out.

Ready to try?

Start with slow, deep breaths – Breathing is a cue to the body about how to channel energy. Slow deep breaths tell our bodies to relax, to open up to sensation, and for most of us a good deep breath is long overdue and just feels good. Bring in breath so that your lower belly fills up, then as you let it out imagine that your tension is melting. Deep breaths are great when your partner is focused on pleasing you and you get to lay back and receive (and can help relieve any shyness you may feel about being pleasured). 

Move with your breath– Now that you are breathing deeply, you can rock your pelvis along with your breath. You may tilt your pelvis back on the in breath and tuck it forward on your out breath. These can be small gentle movements; think rocking, not thrusting at this point. There is no right or wrong with this, see what feels right for you. Just use your breath as an invitation to move your body. Let your breath deepen so that you can hear it. Don’t be surprised if your breathing starts to get faster…

Faster and deeper – As you get more turned on, your breath will change. You can help with that by consciously speeding up your breathing. Try taking in mini-gulps of air, like gasps. As you do that imagine your sensation building.

Let sound come out – If you are breathing deeply, you may naturally be making some luscious noise. Just let your mouth open, relax your jaw, and let your breath come out fully as a sigh. If that feels good, turn it into a moan. Making sound engages your whole body and keeps energy flowing, which is good for intensity. Making sound cues your partner to your pleasure and that is a huge turn on. But it is not just for your partner - I really recommend that you make sound when you masturbate too, so that you can ride your own excitement and get used to hearing yourself.

Sound = Vibration -  Sound involves little vibrations. If you have ever chanted OM in yoga class, you may have experienced the resonation of sound into your belly. Using your mouth and sound creates a nice little vibration for sensitive spots. If you have your mouth on your partner for some oral play, make a little ‘MMM’ sound. Gently holding a nipple in your mouth and humming – oh yeah.

Feeling the breath -  You can use your breath to create coolness or warmth on your partner’s skin. Lick a place and then blow gently on it from an inch away and watch the goosebumps rise. Lick a place and bring your open mouth close to the skin and breath out, wet, warmth. Blow like a light tickle, whisper secrets into their skin. Sensation play, no props needed.

Say it – Say “yes”, say “please’, say “oh god, don’t stop!”. Tell your partner what you are about to do. Tell your partner what you would like them to do. Using your voice can be a huge part of the fun – even the whole part if you are engaging in phone sex or just opting for a safe sex choice. This can be part of the sex play hours before you get naked together. And it can be especially fun in building anticipation with a partner who is happily restrained or blindfolded. Talking dirty is its own sexplay toolkit, and I will write more specifically about that next time…

For now, try these simple intensity boosts. If making sound feels embarrassing to you, I highly recommend you start with using breath as a gentle introduction. Play music so that you feel surrounded by sound. You can also try muffling your sounds by moaning into a pillow or an open palm over your mouth. Restricting your sound, is its own kind of play. But in any case, breath is powerful. When in doubt, take a deep breath,… let it out slowly. Enjoy.

Opening Up Your Relationship Part 2: How To Talk to Your Partner About It

 Originally Published by

 Asking a current partner to change the rules of the relationship can be scary. If you love your partner and want to stay in relationship with them, shaking things up can feel incredibly fragile and remind you of what you stand to lose. If you are thinking about an open relationship, I hope you have spent some time asking yourself questions and gaining clarity on what it is you want, why you want it, and what you are willing to compromise.

Once you have some clarity for yourself, you may decide to approach your partner and explore making changes to your relationship agreements. Here are some tips, pulled from couples I have seen in the therapy room, for those early conversations.

Find a time when you feel close, strong and relaxed – Thinking about opening your relationship to new partners will feel vulnerable and risky, so start the conversation from a solid foundation. Be sure you will have time and privacy, that you both have had recent clear reminders of why your relationship is healthy and strong, and there are no other major life stressors drawing energy. If you have recently had a breach of trust, or communication has been painful, or you are not enjoying spending time together, this is probably not a good time to explore opening your relationship. Rather focus on strengthening what you have together so that you have a good base for adventures later.

Be prepared to hear No – Remember if you come to this with only one acceptable outcome in mind, it is less a conversation than an ultimatum. You may be very excited about this possibility, but try as best you can to actually approach your partner with curiosity. Your first conversations should be to explore the idea together, not to try and convince them. Ask questions; what do they imagine an open relationship looks like?, what would scare them about it?, what excites them?, what would it require you to change? If your partner doesn’t feel pressured or manipulated, it is more likely you will be able to revisit the topic again.

Be prepared to tell your partner how they are special to you -  In thinking about adding new partners in to a relationship dynamic, It is natural for your current partner to wonder, “Am I being replaced? Am I lacking in some way or not enough for you? Will you treat me just the same as you treat other partners?” Come to the conversation able to speak to what is unique about your relationship with your current partner, what you appreciate about them, and how you see them as being different than other partners. How will you prioritize your partner? How do you see their role in your life as special?

Be prepared to talk about time management and priorities – The truth is having more than one romantic or sexual partner requires more time. If your partner already feels squeezed into your life or both of you are barely getting through your weeks requirements as it is, you will need to think about what is realistic. What will you have to  give up doing so that you time to spend with new people? What is going to take priority?

Don’t Bully or Belittle – One behavior I have seen again and again in unsuccessful conversations about open relationships, is one partner treating the other as though they are unenlightened, up tight, brainwashed, jealous – pick your patronizing insult. The results of this approach are no better than when the partner who is against an open relationship accuses the other of being slutty, immature, immoral, or worse. Relationships are about emotional needs as well as shared values. Even if the idea of monogamy no longer makes sense to you intellectually, remember that decisions about relationships and love are deeply emotional. They don’t always rely on the rational. Our relationships are not just socio/political exercises, they must be uniquely shaped by the humans in them. Be respectful of your partner’s stance and honor the emotions and vulnerability at play.

Expect this to be a long conversation – Look at this as a shared exploration. The two of you cannot figure out how you feel or what will work for you in one sitting. This will take time to develop, a series of conversations, starts and stops, re-evaluating, questioning, and even back tracking. All of this of ok, in fact it is the basis of an honest, alive, growing relationship.

Opening Up Your Relationship : Questions to Ask Yourself

  Originally published on

I see many people in my private practice who do not want to end the relationship they are in but are interested in having other sexual or romantic partners. As polyamory and open relationships are becoming more visible, more people are wondering, is there a way I can be honest with my partner about what I am desiring? How can I even start this conversation? What will help us to be successful if we try this?

Here are some tips from my years of working with couples while they explore if an open relationship is right for them. This first article will focus on getting clarity for yourself before you even approach your partner.

First, do not start an affair. I cannot stress this enough. It is true for many people that the first time they begin to consider open relationships are when they have met an appealing new potential partner.  While a new person may allow you to realize that you can love more than one person at a time; if you are seriously considering an open relationship with your current partner the first requirement will be to treat them with respect and the relationship with integrity. Open relationships are not a free for all or permission for cheating; lies are still lies. You will not be able to effectively change the rules of your relationship to allow for more openness, and the trust that this requires, when you are healing the wounds of an affair.

Be honest with yourself about what you want from your current relationship. Are you considering new partners because you are bored or unhappy with your current relationship? Are your reasons for wanting to stay with your current partner primarily practical, i.e. it would be inconvenient to divorce or separate? Can you identify things about your current partner that you love and really value about them? Are you happy being with them for who they are? A functioning open relationship will require intense honesty, respect and ongoing communication. Do you and your partner currently have those skills and want to engage MORE with each other? Are you willing to take some time to first build the foundation of this relationship before adding other partners? If not, this brings us to our next tip.

 Don’t use an open relationship as a way to break up slowly. If you are not really happy with your current partner and are desiring a way to pull away from that relationship, it will be better to be honest about this – with yourself and your partner. A struggling relationship is not likely to be fixed by opening up to other partners, nor are other partners necessarily going to ease the blow of a break up. More often it just complicates things further and makes it so you really don’t have the energy or the time to work on problems with your current partner. So before beginning a conversation with your partner about opening the relationship, ask yourself, am I really asking for this because I feel it will end the relationship so that I can be free?

Ask, are you willing to let someone else share in your sexual decision-making? While there are hundreds of ways to structure open relationships and sexual agreements with partners, if you are thinking about expanding a relationship with a current partner, that implies that you will work as partners to create rules and agreements that work for both of you. This requires negotiation, consent, and sometimes not getting to do what you want. When I meet people who tell me they want an open relationship with their partner with no rules and no partners off limits, I know we need to explore if this person wants a shared open relationship with their partner or do they want to no commitment at all. It is ok to want to make sexual decisions strictly for yourself and by yourself, but it helps to be clear about this. Otherwise what I have seen happen is an extended negotiation period in which one person continually breaks agreements, asks for more freedoms, and eventually the other person feels that there is no “relationship” at all, just free for all dating. If you want complete freedom from the boundaries and responsibilities of relationship, then that is a different conversation.

Explore the role sexuality plays in your life and your image of yourself. The more clarity you can have about your desires, fears, doubts, joys and yearnings, the more you will be able to have an intimate conversation with your partner about trying something new. Open relationships ask you to bring your sexuality out of the shadows and to talk about risky subject manner. Support yourself, know your own mind and heart as much as possible, and stay open and curious to what you are feeling. Working with a sex therapist or taking a workshop about sexuality can be a great resource.


What AM I Feeling?

Some days it takes all the attention we have to just figure out what it is that we are feeling, much less what we want to do about it. As a therapist, I want to honor that. This directive to say what you are feeling and speak your truth and be clear about what you need – not always easily achieved.

So what can you do when your thoughts are buzzing your head like angry dragonflies and your emotions are a jumbled ball of contradictory feelings and your intentions…who the hell knows?

First you can slow down. There is no rush to respond in the moment, unless the moment is a literal emergency and then you must trust your instincts. Stop talking and take a breath. Take another breath. Get out of your spinning head for a moment by simply looking around you. Find something beautiful in the space around you and look at it as though you were going to need to describe it later. Start to feel your body; it is there giving you structure. Move around a bit. OK, now that things are a bit slower…

You can identify the emotions without trying to figure them out. Just focus on the real basic emotions at first. You can say, “I am feeling angry.” Or “I am feeling really sad.” Or “I am feeling scared” Just start there. Don’t rush to explain why you are feeling that way, to yourself or anyone else, at the moment. Don’t justify your feelings by focusing on what that jerk did to make you feel that way, for now just identify the emotion or emotions. Just give yourself a bit of time to acknowledge those feelings as they are. Remind yourself that whatever you are feeling it is not going to last forever, it does not define you, and it is ok to feel it.

If you are with someone you care about, you might start by saying “I am feeling really sad right now and I want you to know that before we go further in talking about this.” This might help you avoid getting caught up in mental gymnastics and verbal sparring that is fed by unnamed emotions. Sharing how you feel also is an act of trust and openness and can soften the conversation for both of you. You can also say, “I need some time to figure out why I am having such strong emotions. I will come back to this conversation when I have more insight.”

Then give yourself a space to process all the thoughts and feelings and how they have gotten combined in such a potent mixture today. It is best if you can do this in a way in which you will not be held accountable for all that you are feeling in the moment. So talk it out with a neutral person who can understand conflicting and even irrational emotions sometimes need to be aired out. If you don’t have a person like that available, journal to yourself or talk to a mirror or close your eyes and talk to your divine or a departed loved one or a wise part of yourself. Clarity will come but it may take some dedicated time to explore the layers. Try to stay open to yourself.

We all get hit by big, confusing, overwhelming reactions sometimes. It helps to know that you don’t have to get stuck there or to have it all figured out immediately. Asking yourself, “What AM I feeling?!!” is actually a great start.