Marina Krleža: Open relationship – Sexual Deviation or Art of Tolerance


It is a topic that seems to be well known to everybody, yet nobody knows anything about it. An occurrence that everybody has an opinion on, but very few have experienced it. A concept that majority of people condemn without knowing anyone who practises it and who can tell them about their experiences. Even with those that claim to know people who were in open relationships, most often it turns out that these were not open relationships at all, but unexperienced individuals trying to experiment.

People get most concerned about something they know nothing about and meet it with distrust and judgement, not wishing to give it some time to get informed in more detail, let alone having the guts to try it out for themselves.

Until a decade or two ago, homosexuality was a big taboo. People distrusted it, and were even afraid of it. Gay Prides were met with a lot of hate and all sorts of prejudices. All political parties and presidential candidates persistently refused to openly support LGBT community, considering that it would cost them a number of potential voters.

Recently, there has been a similar media discussion on open relationships going on. Comparable to the one on homosexual relationships in the 90-ies. Considering that we are a primarily Christian country, and that it is known that the Bible prescribes sexual union of man and woman as the only normal option, it was thought that homosexual relationships were evil, utterly immoral, that people who practise them were either sick, suffering men or poor creatures who had unhappy childhood. When did we stop condemning homosexualism? At the moment when we learned enough about it. The same will happen with open relationships.

I am going to ask you an important question: Do you think all homosexuals are unhappy in their relationships or you think that it depends on each particular individual and that any relationship, regardless of its kind should be viewed as a separate entity?

Currently, there are very few open relationships, hence there is no sufficient number of patterns, according to which people would analyse this kind of still-phenomenon. That is why I would like to break down prejudices that people who practise open relationships are unhappy, weird, that they are bored or that they love less on the average. People who are in monogamous relationships can be characterized in the same way. I hope that you are aware that these are very banal prejudices, hence I get very sad not only to hear them, but to see them come from people I appreciate and care about.

Have I practised an open relationship? Yes, I have, though not to the extent that I wanted. Two years ago, I broke up the five-year long relationship with the partner that I loved because we disagreed on this issue exactly. That is the kind of relationship I still want, but I need to find an adequate partner in this quite chauvinistic and patriarchal society.

For me open relationship means freedom to sexually do what I want and with whom I want, and while at it being able to share it with my partner, without feeling any guilt. (My need to share my own thoughts and feelings is extremely big and I am very responsible about this issue.) That can mean that I will have one sexual intercourse with somebody else on a monthly basis, but it can also mean that I will never ever have it. This is crucial: if I do not feel the need for it, and if my partner is sufficient for me at any moment, I will continue to be in open relationship, but in an unrealized one. But I will feel free and my libido will be independent from the love I feel for my partner. Furthermore, I will probably feel deeper respect and love for my partner because of his tolerance to the possibility that I can do what, when and with whom I want to. Because, as I mention very often, for me sex and masturbation are separated from love.

Sometimes I wonder how do persons for whom only one person is enough sexually function, since I have never been that kind of person. Although I always love only one person and am not polyamorous, I am polygamous in the physical sense and do not hide it. Even in the moments when I have frequent and very satisfactory sex, I can desire somebody else or something new that my partner is not able to provide for me. Of course, I can suppress my desire out of love to my partner, but then I do not feel natural. Therefore, if my partner does not let me do what I want, I rather choose to be single then to cheat on somebody.

In Seksoteka Facebook post and on my private profile, I asked people, who feel they might be in open relationship, to click like. 103 of about 6,150 followers, who saw the post, clicked like on Seksoteka web page, which represents 1.7%. On my private profile, out of 285 people, 19 liked the post, which is 6.6%. We asked all the others to comment on why they were not in favour of open relationship.

Majority of them mentioned jealousy and possesiveness as the reason for not being able to be in that kind of relationship, in the sense that they did not wish to share their partners with anyone else. My reply to this is that possessiveness is weakness, and jealousy means no self-confidence. People who claim to be too possessive should wonder where the cause for such possessiveness lies.

Is a partner an object or a thing “YOU” share? Who are “YOU” in this context? An owner? You neither possess, nor are entitled to your partner. If your partner fantasizes or wants to have sexual intercourse with somebody else than you, it is not up to you to decide whether he/she is allowed to do that or not. Human beings do not possess one another, or at least they should not do so. If, on the other hand, person thinks of himself/herself as somebody’s possession, such a person is not completely developed.

I remember that it was exactly how I felt – as somebody’s possession, when, in my last relationship, my partner explicitly forbade me to sleep with anybody else; otherwise, he would break up with me. It was a very frustrating feeling, even more so because I really loved my man.

My prejudice about what the mentioned possessiveness means for some people was partially and vividly broken with arguments by Renata Gubić on my wall:

“[Possessiveness that majority of people mention does not relate to possessiveness towards the person. We are possessive towards the emotion of love exclusivity. We do not wish to share the emotion of loved person with anybody else. That is when we are asked how we would want it if we could choose. Reality is often drastically different, hence extreme lovers of emotional exclusivity (read pathologically jealous) frequently capitulate, forgive and accept compromises. But it is still far from open relationship in which somebody always gets hurt, I think. Mostly, the one who loves more.]”

Some of readers claim that people in open relationships do not seem happy. My remark to that claim is – how many people there are in “normal” relationships that do not seem satisfied, that are sad, that do not communicate and feel very lonely. The satisfaction of people does not depend on the kind of relationship, since it is not measured by it.

The reason against open relationship for some people is that they get too emotionally engaged and always connect sex with deep emotions for one person only. My comment is that, firstly, open relationship most often does not imply emotional engagement, but the physical one (what this person mentioned is called polyamory – when you love several persons, and was covered by our Matija in his column). Naturally, emotions can occur during sex, but if you love and respect your partner and are certain of your love, there is no need to worry.

One reader wrote that it would make more sense to him if a person that is not ready for physically monogamous relationship of a quality type, would rather be single and have fuck buddies. It is a logical explanation, but let me mention an example when this is not necessarily the best solution. Imagine a woman who really loves her husband and has a very successful marriage with him, but in time, after she has given birth twice, she realizes that much wider penis than her partner’s is more suitable for her during penetration. For some couples purchase of a wider dildo or vibrator might resolve the situation, but some women might begin to fantasize about having sex with better endowed men. They might develop fantasies about interracial sex with black men or something similar. A man who does not wish his wife would only fantasize, but who would want her, from time to time, to experience what she lacks on all levels, will allow his beloved to go for such sexual adventure.

Some people’s argument against is that in such relationships there is no responsibility. On the other hand, I think the responsibility is of key importance and it is manifested through being honest with your partner. Let people who have never thought what it would be like to have sex with somebody they like, apart from their partner, raise their hand. Now some will say – it is one thing to think about it, and completely different to do it. Do you know why is it that you do the first one very often, and the second one practically never? Because you live by the patterns imposed on you by the society. If you were responsible towards yourselves and others, you can be sure that you would try very hard to give physical pleasure to yourselves and themselves, in case that there was a mutual attraction present.

One woman says that in her youth she thought that open relationships were fun, but now, entering her 50-ies, there is no way she could do it. I think that age is irrelevant for open relationship. It is only at that age that many women begin to enjoy in their bodies unhindered, after they are done with all the preoccupations of motherhood and can devote themselves exclusively to themselves, their partners and relaxation.

One of interesting comments on open relationships on my wall comes from Ana-Maria Hota:

“[All of us were in open relationships, particularly in our 20-ies. When you are seeing somebody, you both know that you are in love with each other, but one of you (usually a guy) does not want to commit yet, and some people happen on the side. Personally, I think they are very interesting while you are with that person, and very painfull when you are waiting for the call. I think that they also have negative impact on self-confidence because you always wonder why it is that you are not enough for somebody and why is it that he/she has chosen somebody else. Also, relationships that are slowly dying are “open”, although it is not talked about. Cheating is sharing intimacy with people who are not your partner. Open relationship is the same. My conclusion is that open relationships function when partners do not love each other (any more). And there is the issue of sexually transmitted diseases. What about them?! (Condom is not a sufficient protection from all of them.)

Sexually transmitted diseases are, in my opinion, the best reason for not entering into such relationships. On the other hand, comment that is not in favour of this was mentioned by our columnist Matija: “There is a catch because of which a number of STDs in (ethically) open relationships is approximately equal to that in monogamous ones. Monogamous people often cheat, and adulteries are most often not planned. Unplanned sex most commonly is unprotected one, and after adultery, when people get back to their partners, they do not, all of a sudden, insist on condom because it would cause suspicion.”

The next comment I think is interesting, although not in favour of open relationships, goes like this: “You share moments with your partner in which nobody else knows you, and which are only between you and that person, and I think it creates some kind of vulnerability in our psyches. We have maximally exposed ourselves, we have shown something that we have never shown to anybody else, and I completely understand the sense of hurt in the event a third person appears.”

Bruno Ogorelec gives a perfect reply to this comment: “This means that we do not commit to a person because of that person, but out of our own insecurity? Somehow this sounds pathetic to me. I would say that we should strive for relationships that are not necessary because of our own faults and emptiness, but represent a positive experience as a kind of gestalt, that results in sum larger than its parts. I think that relationship should not be a support and a crutch, and our partner should not be an aid to compensate for our own deficiencies and serve as a way out of our own problems. Otherwise, our partner is means and not a partner. The real, valuable relationships are created (I think) only when both partners stand more or less with their feet firmly on the ground and need assistance only as an exception, in atypical moments of weakness. When partners are self-confident, there is no need for the “ownership” feeling, and thus no need for exclusivity. Then the relationship can be of an “open” type, without it being either a problem or a threat to partners. Therefore, if a relationship is not based on taking from and using the partner, but on giving to the other person and enjoying in whatever that other person is willing to give us, without necessity of life, that would (in my opinion) represent truly good, solid relationship. Of course, this is theorizing. In practice, all of us have weaknesses and a partner comes in handy to back you up (among other things) where you are weak and it is not to be underestimated, but I am talking about the principle here, about what we should strive for. Therefore, the partner should not, basically, be what we lack, one of the partners should not be the biscuit, and another one cream; one without the other is incomplete and makes no sense, both partners should be cakes, and their relationship cream and cherries on top.”

One woman writes: “To me, this looks like a male idea, although women might be more active than men in that kind of relationship.” It is quite irrelevant whose idea this is, but the second part of the sentence is very interesting and indicative. Women are definitely more orgasmic, but you’ll read more about it in one of future columns.

I like the opinion of another reader, though I do not agree with her: “It is a special pleasure to satisfy the partner in a way nobody else can. The ease of sexual existence whe you are next to each other. I think this is specificity. Releasing all your perverse for the external world, yet all seeming so normal for the two of you in your intimacy.” Personally, I would never think that I am the one and only to give pleasure to my partner, but I find it nice when people think about their abilities with such enthusiasm and self-confidence. I think that different people can sexually attract us at different moments.

One woman comments that she does not like to share her toys, to which I reply that the man is not a toy. I would like too remind you of objectivization that we are all susceptible to in this and similar contexts. I repeat that we do not possess anybody. If we feel the need for possession, then we are the problem.

Some people reply that they are not for that kind of relationship because they were raised in extensively traditional way and have traditional views. That I understand and accept. If open relationship is anything, it is non-traditional.

As I finish this column, I remember a successful, married couple in open relationship with three children, that contacted me recently. They asked me if I had an interesting lover for her that I had already been with. I do not operate as service for searching sexual partners, but I have known these people for years, they trust me and I know they are very open sexually.  I arrange one of my former lovers for her in a way that I give them phone numbers of each other. The further development is up to them, since the details are of no interest to me, but I definitely wish them to enjoy and have fun.

I have seen open relationships that transcended to open marriages. There is no record of which ones are dominant. In addition, there is no statistics showing whether open relationships are preferred by women or men, but Seksoteka might conduct a survey about it once. What is certain is that it requires experience, life and sexual one, as well.

I will name only few of celebrity couples that have been practising such relationship for years: Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Tilda Swinton and John Byrne, Pink and Carey Hart, Larry King and Shawn Southwick, Dolly Parton and Carl Dean, Ethan Hawke and Ryan Shawhughes.

Considering that open relationship has its variations, maybe some of you wonder whether it can be platonic. It cannot because it implies physical, sexual, live contact with another person. This does not include cyber sex and phone sex. Some partners allow each other these kinds of encounters, but open relationship is strictly off limits.

In spite of the fact that it cannot be platonic, it can be a passing phase of a relationship, under the condition that the relationship is final, as I pointed out last time, that is, if you decide to spend your future with that partner.

Beside the fact that it does not necessarily has to be applied in all life phases, we might not need it with all of our partners in life. With some partners, it suits us, with others it does not. It is very often an unconscious feeling and we do not need to look for meaningful reasons for why it so so, although hints can be detected. Let us be aware that nothing is fixed. Human beings change and evolve, and the same goes for their sexual relationships and needs.

Open relationship can imply that pyhisically monogamous partner does not do it, while the pyhisically polygamous one is “allowed to”. It can also include relationship with the same sex partner in case of bisexual persons. People are different, and thus their combinations. Always keep in mind that numerous social conventions steer you towards unified patterns of behaviour, many of which you are not aware of and you judge everything that is different from the ones you have experience of.

Once again, it is important to note that open relationship has nothing to do with promiscuity, but is about honesty and personal freedoms, excluding the possibility of secretly cheating on your partner. If somebody is in an open relationship, it does not mean that these persons are nymphomaniacs, or they were deprived in their childhood or they do not know what it is they want. It is exactly the opposite since the persons who practice it know what they want, and openly and honestly enjoy in life sharing sexual experiences with the persons they love.

Just as any individual should be free to go on a holiday by himself/herself (although we love our partners, sometimes we need the time just for ourselves), we should, from time to time, afford ourselves something sexual, without our partners. Open relationship is ideal for such need.

Look at yourself in the mirror and think whether you cheated on your partner and how many times.  For real or in your mind, without telling him/her. Do you think it is worse than open relationship in which partners communicate about who attracts them and in which way? Furthermore, are you happy with your sexual life? If not and you keep quiet, don’t you think you are hypocrites, who do not communicate with your partners, while on the outside you pretend that everything is in order with your relationship or marriage and that you have regular sexual life? There, you see. There is nothing like that in open relationship. Therefore, seriously ask yourself why you constantly label people in such relationship as too liberal, promiscuous and unhappy. It is time to admit to yourself that all misconceptions about open relationship you have had until this day are wrong, ungrounded and completely unnecessary for development of humankind.

In sexual honesty with you,

In the end, I add two of my statements to the media, from the beginning of last year:

“Let us say, that I am interested in open relationship that is very rarely practised in Croatia. Hardly anybody wants it; because Godforbidthat, you pollute your love by sexual act with the third person. However, in practise, adultery is quite common occurrence and it shocks absolutely nobody. Such hypocrisy of the society makes me very sad. All over the world there are couples who openly speak about it, there are hints that many celebrities function in this way, such as Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. Personally, I can imagine myself in that kind of relationship, but it is very difficult in Croatia. I still have not met a man who would tolerate something like that, yet at the same time be long-term mature in all other aspects of the relationship.”

(25/01/2016, Interview given to the Nacional)

“That might be the reason for us being quite closed when it comes to the so-called open relationships, those that our society, mostly, perceives as swinging, which is wrong. Open relationship is a relationship in which sex has no contact with either spiritual or emotional; relationship in which we freely ask what we need when we need it from our partners, communicating about it unhesitatingly. We can wish for that kind of adventure on a weekly, monthly or annual basis. Maybe never, but it is good if that possibility is open to us. At the same time, while we still marvel at something like that, adultery is quite common occurrence in our society, which is extremely hypocritical, in relation to our catholic worldview.

(28/01/2016, Interview given to the Radio Portal NG Buntovnici)