How to Do It

The “Uneven” Nonmonogamous Marriage

I agreed to open our marriage for my husband. He’s loving it. I am not.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

I’m writing for advice about how to have a relatively happy and functional “uneven” nonmonogamous marriage.

About six months ago, my husband told me he wanted to officially open our marriage. We’d talked about nonmonogamy before, but mostly just involving group play. We’d even tried casually to find a third, but nothing materialized. Now, he said, he was acknowledging that he is fundamentally not a monogamous person, and that in addition to group play, he wanted to explore dating and sex with other people.

Since then, he’s dated several women, has been sexual with a couple, and we’ve had two threesomes with another woman. Some of it has been great! It’s injected a much-needed boost of excitement into an always-good sex life. We’re having more exciting sex more often, and generally feeling really connected. We’re talking so much more than ever, and the liberation he feels is apparent in how much more honest and open he’s being emotionally. I love all that.

But I’m also really struggling because I think I am, for the most part, a monogamous person. I’ve tried dating on my own too and haven’t found anyone I click with because my heart just isn’t in it. I felt only a mild spark for the third in our threesome. My libido is higher than ever: I want him all the time. But I still just only want him. And I’m jealous and anxious about his dating all the time. He’s very reassuring that he’s not going to leave me (and I believe him), but I miss feeling special, like I was the only one he wanted or felt this way about. I get moody when I see him texting other women, sending them selfies, and flirting. I feel sad that I’m not “enough” for him, even though I understand intellectually that’s not logical, and I’ve seen how much better our connection is when he gets to explore this part of himself. The pandemic has made some of this worse because, as we are forced to spend all our time together, we are getting on each other’s nerves and we don’t have space for mystery and desire and excitement to build—and meanwhile his digital-only flirtations with other women are all newness and excitement and fantasy.

I don’t have any moral or ethical problem with nonmonogamy. I’ve told him there’s nothing to be ashamed of and nothing wrong with him. But I’m sad and nervous about how to navigate this fundamental divide between us. I want him to be happy and fulfilled, and I deeply love him and want to be married to him, but I don’t know how to square that with my own feelings about him sleeping with other women. Is it possible to have a nonmonogamous relationship where only one person pursued independent dating? To draw boundaries for the nonmonogamous partner that protect the monogamous partner’s feelings? How can I feel loved and secure while allowing him the freedoms to be who he is?

—Cold Open

Dear Cold Open,

It’s absolutely possible to have a consensual nonmonogamous relationship where only one half of the partnership has sex with others. It’s also possible to have a relationship where you get off specifically on being in a one-sided relationship—given what you say about your libido being higher than ever, this might be a functional arrangement for you.

Boundaries, communication, and commitment are key in opening up a relationship and maintaining open relationships. You will feel insecure at times, whether your relationship remains open or returns to being closed. Read The Ethical Slut together, keeping track of what resonates for you and what you react negatively to. Discuss what seems useful and what you disagree with.

Share your feelings with your husband. Let him know you’re struggling with jealousy, that you’re sad and questioning your value to him, and that you’re frustrated by the situation you’re both in. Express that. Give him a chance to support you, to address your concerns, and make changes to his behavior if he’s willing. Maybe that’s as simple as having alone time for an hour. Even if you’re in the same room, turning away and using headphones will help a little. If possible, one of you can go run errands while the other gets some solitude. Maybe it’s time that’s expressly just for the two of you. And maintain your outside connections. If you’re not interested in searching for dates, you can tend to your platonic and familial relationships.

If the two of you continue being open, you might consider attending swingers or poly munches to meet other people with experience, and specifically to learn from them about processing and managing jealousy.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a straight man and I have a small penis. About 4 inches when erect. This is probably the thing I’m most embarrassed about myself. I’ve been struggling to masturbate, and I’ve realized that it might be because I really struggle to find myself sexy or attractive, all because of my dick. I’ve heard stories about guys being laughed at when they are going to have sex and take their pants off, and while these are often meant to entertain, this literally sounds like a nightmare to me. So I guess my question is twofold: Is a having small penis a turn off to women in general. Like, is it possible to please them without at least an average penis, and how can I feel better about myself? Important note: I’m still holding onto my V-card, but am not totally inexperienced—I’ve had a girlfriend (who didn’t seem to mind the size, but we never had P-in-V sex either).

—Too Small to Handle?

Dear Too Small to Handle?,

Women are a very broad group. Some of us like huge penises. Others prefer small penises. Some refuse to touch any genitals that might be a penis. And a lot of us care more about the person and their other sexual specifics than the size of their genitalia.

There are people in the world who would laugh at you, even if you’re only a little bit below average. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it’s something you should prepare yourself for. There are also people who will be overjoyed that you’re a size they can easily handle. I’m hoping you find more of the latter.

It is absolutely possible to please women with a small penis. You can please a woman without any penile involvement at all. In fact, many women can’t orgasm from P-in-V. No matter how large the wang, it’s wasted on them if we’re measuring success in orgasms. Learn about oral sex, digital sex (fingering), frottage, and vibrators. They’re all great ways to sexually stimulate someone. Start paying attention to your mouth. What’s your tongue doing? How firm are your lips in various positions? Think about sensations you can deliver with your fingertips. Practice light, teasing strokes. Experiment on the head of your own penis. Squeeze. Gently pull. Develop your awareness of these parts of your body, and an understanding of the way various sensations feel on delicate genitals. When you’re with a partner, pay attention to them. Listen to their reactions. Do they inhale, pant, or moan? That tells you what to do more of.

As for how to feel better about yourself, I hope confidence in your sexual proficiency can help a little. When you do find women who are happy with your anatomy, I think those experiences will help as well. When you’re masturbating and distracting thoughts come up, especially when they’re negative toward yourself, acknowledge the thought, remind yourself that it isn’t useful, and return your attention to your porn, erotica, sensations, or whatever else was working for you. Sometimes the thought comes back. That’s OK. You can acknowledge, refute, and refocus again.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman in my late 20s using the “mini pill” as my primary birth control, and since going on it a couple years ago, I’ve noticed a gradual but definite drop in my libido. This isn’t usually a big problem, because my boyfriend and I are long distance and see each other in person for only a week or so about every couple of months. But when I do see him, I want to want to have sex, and plenty of it!

Switching birth control isn’t an easy option, because for whatever reason I tend to get UTIs a lot when we use condoms. An IUD caused intolerable side effects, and because of a medical condition that gets worse with estrogen, other hormonal birth control isn’t an option. Despite the effect on my libido, the mini pill is the best compromise that my doctor and I could come up with. So here’s my question: Is there anything nonmedical that I can start doing to boost my libido when I see my boyfriend?

—Chill Pill

Dear Chill Pill,

Did you try condoms made from materials other than the standard? I assume so, but I wanted to mention it just in case.

I recommend Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra. It provides detailed instructions on how to create and hold erotic space. Do you have garments that make you feel sexy? Maybe there’s a set of lingerie that fits you like a dream. Maybe there’s a robe that has an enjoyable texture. If you do, put them on. Does bright light distract you? Invest in a dimmer. Add things that enhance your sensuality, and remove distractions from it.

You might try giving yourself an orgasm once a day in the week leading up to a visit from your boyfriend. You also might try slowly beginning the act of sex together and giving your body time to catch up. I’ll elaborate: He might kiss and gently tease your clitoris for a while, inviting your sexual response to kick in. The key here is to take your time and focus on sensations that stoke desire.

Unfortunately, the effects of the mini pill may not be circumventable. You may have to make a choice between your birth control and a full, enjoyable sex life. We need better birth control options, including effective condoms made of materials that sensitive people can tolerate, and the pill for men. Until we get that, experiences like yours will continue.

Before you go—I get that P-in-V is great fun, but have you considered focusing on oral, digital, and anal to remove the cervical exposure to semen and therefore the need for the mini pill?

Dear How to Do It,

I need someone to talk me into—or out of—doing online sex work. I like the exhibitionism part of it, or at least I think I would, and I would say I have reasonable expectations (I know that it will take time, hard work, and self-promotion to build a following, and even then there’s no guarantee). My boyfriend is supportive of the idea as long as I’m not physically having sex with anyone else.

My main concern is the thought of someone connected to my family or my workplace finding out. While I understand sex work is not immoral and know there’s a time and place for it, not everyone does. I work with kids, and I doubt I would still be able to if a parent found out I was also selling explicit photos and videos of myself. I know I could set up a separate email, PayPal account, use a pseudonym, but there’s still the potential to be recognized, even if I pull an X-rated Hannah Montana. Are there any ways to stay mostly undoxxable? Or should I give up until I’m independently wealthy and all my grandparents are gone?

—Trainee

Dear Trainee,

Someone in your workplace or family will probably find out. And then they might tell everyone else. Do you have tattoos? Any noticeable birth marks? A distinctive voice? These are all ways you can be recognized, even without showing your face.

You’re prudent to be concerned about family and career ramifications. If you decide to enter documented sex work, you can tell your parents before they find out from someone else. This allows you to break the news gently, on your own terms. As for your job, yes, there’s a significant chance that you might get fired. An Indiana mechanic was recently fired when her OnlyFans account came to light.

You mention the exhibitionism aspect of online sex work. You might enjoy going to a sex club at some point, recreationally. Clubs tend to have a no-photos policy that protects the privacy of the attendees. You can express your exhibitionism in private. But if you decide you really want to do this, keep all your accounts separate, be careful of payment methods like Venmo or CashApp that might display your legal name, and yes, use a pseudonym.

—Stoya

More How to Do It

I’m a 35-year-old man who’s started dating a 33-year-old woman. We have the most chemistry I’ve ever experienced with someone I dated. But there’s something else that’s new for me this year that complicates things: I’ve started seeing sex workers. I haven’t told her. It just doesn’t seem plausible that she’d be accepting of this part of my recent past, let alone my or our future. Our sexual chemistry isn’t terrible, but it isn’t as strong as I’d like, nor as strong as the nonsexual chemistry we have. I believe seeing a sex worker can make me a better partner, not unlike seeing a therapist,. Getting certain sexual needs taken care of elsewhere would allow me to better focus my attention and invest in our relationship. Am I crazy?

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