Is an open relationship the antidote to cheating?

I’d always worried that perhaps I was a terrible person to find fidelity such a compromise to my natural instincts

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Is Monogamy Dead?

When I decided to talk about this subject at my Edinburgh show this year, I didn’t quite realise what a can of worms I would be opening up - ‘opening up’ perhaps being an interesting phrase to use as it’s the title of a popular book on polyamory.

I’d always been monogamous, yet felt increasingly frustrated with the familiar cycle of lust becoming deep friendship and then eventual heartbreak when one of us felt too stifled to stay.

Perversely, even when I was dumped, I rediscovered such a powerfully intoxicating sense of sexual self that it reminded me what huge swathes of my own energy I’d been forced to surrender to the cosiness of commitment.

I started to wonder if the only way to simultaneously relish this vibrancy and a more permanent connection would be to have an open relationship.

What we seek in a long term partner (reliability, companionship, kindness) is totally at odds with what we seek in a short term sexual partner (excitement, passion, danger). If it became the norm to have both, would we be more happy, fulfilled and hopeful?

It struck me as a less painful option than cheating, particularly as it’s always the deceit that is reportedly the hardest part for any betrayed partner to come to terms with. With around 50 per cent of people confessing to affairs across several surveys, surely we need to find a more acceptable way to resolve this dilemma.

But what is cheating? How can we even try to be faithful when very few couples agree boundaries in the first place?

A recent Texas survey found that online infidelity can be just as emotionally damaging as a real life affair. In my own recent survey, 62 per cent rated text and email flirting unacceptable, 73 per cent thought falling in love with someone else without any sexual contact still counted and seven per cent  decided that merely fantasising about someone else would not be tolerated. Suddenly my claim to have always been monogamous looked a little shaky.

It’s always been tacitly accepted that men are the ones who need a sexual outlet and will stray. Recent example, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt is hardly a good advert for a true ‘open’ relationship as in my opinion it sounds like his wife has just had to 'accept' it.

However, Daniel Bergner’s recent book What Do Women Want states that women in particular crave sexual novelty and are just as animalistic. Naomi Wolf also talked in Vagina about how women are potentially greater sex addicts to an even headier chemical cocktail due to our multi orgasmic capabilities. I read these words with utter joy and relief. I’d always worried that perhaps I was a terrible person to find fidelity such a compromise to my natural instincts.

True polyamory is something different again with love taking centre stage over sex in multiple consensual intimate connections in a myriad of combinations and hierarchies. It might be a push for many of us simply due to time management as opposed to anything else. All the polyamorous people I spoke to (meetings had to be booked months ahead due to their full romantic schedules) dismissed jealousy out of hand and confessed to feeling rather ‘frubbly’ - turned on by their partner being with someone else. Chiming with Daniel Bergner and Naomi Wolf’s findings, it was the women who seemed particularly glowing. Meanwhile one man who answered my survey clung more tightly to boundaries and rules in enforcing his girlfriend to stick to a ‘one penis policy’. It was fine for her to be with someone else so long as it was another woman!

I haven’t really answered these conflicts for myself yet, and audiences at my previews have emailed me saying they were up until the early hours furiously debating them with their partners afterwards. It can be only be a healthy discussion to have because, while monogamy may not be completely dead, it’s certainly wounded.

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