As a Peer Health Educator in the Relationships program, I appreciate what Sarah Kent had to say in her Jan. 23 column “How You Can Have Your Significant Other and the Hottie Next Door.” With all the hormones raging among the average college student (and especially with all the beautiful people around UCSB and Isla Vista), the concept of an “open relationship’ is not uncommon (whether or not the people involved use this term to describe their relationship). When I use the term “open relationship” I generally mean two people (partners) that have a more-than-platonic relationship with each other without being monogamous.
As Sarah mentioned in her column, this type of relationship can come with risks. These risks can include not knowing where your relationship stands, not knowing who your partner is sleeping with, or a greater chance of someone contracting an STD.
These risks can be minimized if you ask yourself (and your partner) some basic questions about what you want out of your relationship. 1) Would you prefer a monogamous relationship to playing the field? 2) Do you want a high level of intimacy and/or honesty in your relationship? 3) What are you comfortable with your significant other doing with people other than yourself (cuddling, kissing, sexual intercourse, cybersex, etc.)? 4) If you were to participate in any of the activities you answered above with someone other than your partner would you tell them? Conversely, would you want your partner to tell you?
If either of you answers yes to either of the first two questions, an open relationship may not be for you. If you and your partner’s answers to three and four differ, it would be a good idea to have a discussion about whether or not you can reach an agreement on the expectations of your relationship. Once you both know where the other stands you can make a more confident decision about whether or not this relationship is right for you.
Keep in mind that everyone feels differently about these questions and everyone’s feelings are valid. When talking to your partner, be sure to own your feelings by using “I” messages and try to understand where they are coming from by paraphrasing what your partner has to say.
If you decide that an open relationship is not for you, that’s okay. Lots of people are uncomfortable “sharing” someone romantically, especially when sex is involved. And if you decide that an open relationship is something you want to check out, good luck, have fun and be sure to protect yourself and your partners by practicing safe sex. Remember that aside from abstinence, latex barriers are the only effective method of preventing the spread of STDs.
Do you want to know more about how and when to talk to your partner about your expectations or birth control and STD protection? Contact the Relationship Peers through the Health Education Department in Student Health Services. We are available to give presentations to any group in the UCSB community on a variety of topics. Please call 893-2630.
Rebecca Present-Thomas is a junior linguistics major.