It’s not always easy for couples to expand their sexual horizons, but the authors of Designer Relationships say there are many benefits from at least exploring the possibilities. (One big surprise: It’ll bring you closer together.)

You’re no prude and neither is your partner. That’s because you both like sex a lot and you’re pretty open-minded. But as much as you like the idea of trying new things (and okay, let’s be honest, new people) you just aren’t sure how to get your relationship from where it is now and where your erotic imagination longs to take it. Nationally-known sex educators Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson say this problem—call it involuntary sexual conservatism—is actually fairly common.

Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships

“Our culture tells us that anything outside of pure, traditional monogamy is wrong—and even if you don’t REALLY believe it, that conditioning still seeps in,” notes Michaels, coauthor along with Johnson.

It’s not always easy for couples to expand their sexual horizons, but “the irony is monogamy is difficult to define, and any two people you ask are likely to understand it differently,” he adds. “The message is this is how it has to be, don’t question it.”

That’s BS! You and your partner are adults; you and only YOU get to decide how expansive your sex lives should be. And if considering the waters outside monogamy is forbidden, how will you know if it’s right for you?

Of course, becoming more sexually adventurous doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to open your relationship. It just means you’re going to expand your erotic life together and see what happens—with the knowledge that either of you can put the brakes on at any time.

The authors share a few guiding tips: First, realize that monogamy isn’t as “traditional” as you think. Take Christian history, for example. Polygyny is commonplace in the Old Testament and is also accepted in the New Testament. In the early years of the Church, it was banned for religious officials but not for all believers and was sometimes even permitted into the early modern period. The point is that monogamy has only recently become the dominant model, and the way it is practiced continues to change dramatically. (For example, a house full of children with the man in charge is no longer considered ‘the norm’ as it was just a few generations ago.)

Realize, too, that designer relationships are becoming more and more accepted. Cultural attitudes toward alternative relationship styles are shifting rapidly. For instance, a recent Gallup poll showed that the percentage of people who think “polygamy” is not morally objectionable increased from 7 to 16 between 2001 and 2015.

Designer Relationships“Shifting social attitudes free people up to develop partnerships based on their own desires and agreements,” says Michaels. “And unlike the patriarchal forms of polygyny practiced in Islam or the Church of the Latter Day Saints, consensual non-monogamy is deeply empowering.” First, take “Oh, Baby” steps. (Start small.) Perhaps it’s time for you to turn your fantasy life up a notch; say, watching a type of specialty porn (BDSM, perhaps) that interests you or enacting a scene from one of your favorite movies. Start these conversations playfully and casually, the authors advise. There’s nothing unsexier than having a serious sit-down discussion.

“Playing the French maid may feel forced and goofy, especially at first, but that is perfectly fine,” assures Johnson. “Goofiness can be a turn-on!” Then take your sexuality out for a walk. For instance, you could enroll in a couples’ workshop in which sexual techniques are discussed, sign up for a sensual massage workshop in which you practice together in the same room as other attendees, or visit an adult sex-toy shop (where you’re likely to find Liberator products.) The idea is to ease your way into “going public,” says Michaels. You’re not doing anything too extreme but it’s usually enough to tell whether relating sexually in a more open setting is tantalizing or just too much.

Graduate to visiting a polyamory or kink event or swing club (but just to observe.) There are numerous gatherings, ranging from meet-ups to weekend retreats that you can attend. And as with swinging, there’s no requirement that you participate. Regardless of their focus, many of the weekend retreats include an educational component, and can be a great way to dip your toes into the water and learn about these lifestyles. “Here and at every step, be sure to defer to the comfort level of the more hesitant partner,” says Johnson.

Designer RelationshipsFinally—and only if you’re truly ready—try interacting with others. People meet others in a variety of ways such as swinging websites, Craigslist, OkCupid (which is popular among the polyamorous) or FetLife (which is kink oriented). Initial interactions could simply be flirting, dirty dancing, or making out with someone. A step beyond is “soft swap,” which usually refers to sexual activity that stops short of genital intercourse. “Full swap” is the final step—only to be taken if both partners enthusiastically agree.

“Move slowly and open up just a little at first so that you don’t have regrets later,” says Michaels. “In particular, genital intercourse with someone other than a primary partner, perhaps in the presence of that partner, is a very big step for many people.”

Proceed only by mutual agreement. Michaels and Johnson suggest that couples writing up a statement of purpose that sets forth what they love about their relationship, what they hope to strengthen, any concerns they may have, and how they plan to address any challenges that might arise. In addition, they advise reaching firm, clear agreements about what kinds of sexual activity are acceptable (although these can be renegotiated) and what safer sex practices will be used.

Proceed only by mutual agreement. Michaels and Johnson suggest that couples writing up a statement of purpose that sets forth what they love about their relationship, what they hope to strengthen, any concerns they may have, and how they plan to address any challenges that might arise. In addition, they advise reaching firm, clear agreements about what kinds of sexual activity are acceptable (although these can be renegotiated) and what safer sex practices will be used.

During your sexcapades, stay connected and check in often. It is also a good idea to save discussions for the next day (except for truly urgent matters). This will give you some time to absorb what you’ve experienced and perhaps glean some insights. Next-day discussions, even when things have not gone particularly well, can lead to deeper bonding and more trust.

“You’re collaborators, partners in crime,” concludes Michaels. “With communication, mutual trust, and respect, no one wins, no one loses, and there’s always next time.”

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Designer RelationshipAbout the Authors

Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, co-authors of Designer Relationships, are a devoted married couple. They have been creative collaborators since 1999, and their critically acclaimed titles have garnered numerous awards. Michaels and Johnson are the authors of Partners in Passion, Great Sex Made Simple, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment, and The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. To see more from Michel and Johnson, click here.

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