Celeste and Danielle, Creators of the Somatica Method of Sex Therapy and Relationship Coaching

We once worked with a couple who had been together for forty years and came to us desperate to reignite their spark. When we started engaging them in a dialogue about their favorite sexual acts Courtney volunteered, “One of my favorite things is having my toes sucked.” Her husband’s eyes widened. “We’ve been together for forty years. Why have you never told me that you like your toes sucked?” Courtney just shook her head and looked down. “I don’t know. I guess I was just too embarrassed to ask.”

Courtney is not alone in her desire for some toe-lovin or in her fears that talking about what she wants will be embarrassing. Most of us were brought up in cultures that approach sex with shame and repression. We lack a roadmap for how to discuss what we want. In families, sex is rarely discussed and when it is, these dialogues are marked by embarrassment and fear. In most schools, sex education focuses on the mechanics of biological procreation, STIs, and pregnancy prevention; students are generally taught nothing about pleasure. Many religious institutions look at sex as sinful and preach abstinence until marriage. After a childhood and adolescence in which you were taught to think of sex as sinful, dirty, and dangerous, you are supposed to magically fall in love and know exactly what to do sexually. You are expected to share the same desires, tastes, and expectations around sex without ever having to talk with your partner, or anyone else, about erotic pleasure or intimacy .

In the animal world there is no sexual shame or repression. We have all heard about the Bonobo monkeys who brilliantly solve most of their social problems with some form of pleasurable sexual stimulation. Sex is an integrated part of day-to-day life, and primates learn how to have sex from watching their counterparts have sex, an opportunity few of us have outside of staged pornography. Because of our highly developed frontal cortex, desire is much more complex for humans than it is for animals. Our sexual desires are also shaped by our social environment. Monkeys don’t need sexy lingerie, flowers, or blindfolds to get turned on. The idea that sex will just happen naturally between any two people, with all of their uniquely shaped sexual needs, is unrealistic and damaging.

Rather than expecting to go “animal style” we suggest making use of that frontal cortex and the gift of speech in order to learn what your partner wants and communicate what you desire. This means shedding the belief you should “just know.” In our upcoming book, Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couples Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion, we walk through all of the steps to communicating your sexual needs and getting them met. Whether you have been together for 3 months or 30 years, if you have not talked openly about sex and taught your partner what you like, your sex life will likely be much less fulfilling than it could be.

To begin honest outsourcing takes an acknowledgment that no one person, or relationship, can ever fulfill all of our desires or needs, nor should we want it to. Most people already acknowledge this in one way or another, but when it comes to outsourcing sex or romance many folks feel threatened. We keep talking about the what honest outsourcing is, and The pros and cons, because we understand that operationalizing honest outsourcing in any given relationship is a unique task that can be very rewarding if approached with care and open communication. These 6 keys can guide that process.

  1. Go slow. Start by doing something that feels within your comfort zone, then slowly move on to experiences that are only a little outside your comfort zone. We see the biggest problems arise when people approach opening up from a place of scarcity and urgency, feeling like they have to get everything from the first experience. Non-monogamy works much better when you take the time to test out new experiences and communicate afterwards to see what feelings arise and share what worked and what didn’t.
  2. Always prioritize your partner’s needs and boundaries over the needs of other partners, and make sure your other partners know that you are going to do this. This may mean you have to disappoint other partners in order to keep your primary relationship strong.
  3. Do not expect your partner to have the same desires you do. When negotiating what you want, don’t try to be “fair.” Figure out what each of you wants to get out of the arrangement and whether you want to do it at all. For example, we worked with one couple where only one of the partners had other lovers and another couple where she wanted romantic dating with lots of kissing and occasional sex and he wanted anonymous sexual experiences with new people.
  4. You won’t know what it will feel like until you actually have the experience. Look at each new experience as a trial run where you see what you felt, whether it worked for you, and what, if anything, would need to change in order for you to want to do it again. Some experiences will feel good, and you may want to do them again; others will not, and you might not want to do them again. If you stretched too far, you might need to try experiences closer to your comfort zone before you try to stretch that far again.
  5. You and your partner will have different triggers around opening up your relationship, so it is essential to share your feelings. Don’t ignore them or try to get over them without your partner’s help. Don’t compare your ability to handle an open relationship with your partner’s ability. You each have your own feelings, needs, and boundaries. If you try to talk yourself out of any of these, you will build resentment and distance. To stay intimately connected, you will need to be as honest as possible about what is going on inside you.
  6. Learn what your partner needs in terms of reassurance that you are still there and committed to the relationship. When you are connecting with other people, your partner will likely need to have much more reassurance than they needed when you were being monogamous. For some people, there are specific words, for others they need touch or sexual connection to feel reassured. Let your partner know what you need and be specific. Give them information on the kinds of words, gestures and sentences are most reassuring for you.

Again, these are just a few helpful tools to begin discussing. If you want to explore opening your relationship with your partner, we strongly recommend you read some books on the topic. We recommend The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton, and Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino. Learning as much as you can and practicing with good communication tools is essential before you give honest outsourcing a try!

Whenever we talk to anyone about non-monogamy, the first question we always get is “Yes, in theory, but do non-monogamous relationships really work?” The simple answer is yes. Both monogamous and open relationships have their places of ease and their challenges which are quite different. For example, those who desire consistency and feel very threatened by the thought of their partner being with someone else may do better with monogamy while those who are less prone to jealousy and crave more variety may do better with non-monogamy. We believe the more important question is, “What really makes a relationship work?” Whether a relationship is monogamous or non-monogamous, what makes it work is mutual trust, respect, attachment, good communication, empathy, the ability to self-reflect and grow, consideration, and the desire to support each other in being true to who you are.

Pros of Honest Outsourcing

Negotiating non-monogamy can actually enhance your relationship because it requires high level communication skills that many monogamous relationships don’t develop. From our years of seeing clients, we can say that most relationships are under-communicated. Without a conscious choice to communicate, people get lazy about expressing their feelings, needs, and fears. Instead they use shortcuts and rely on what they already know, or think they know, about their partner. Imagining or practicing non-monogamy will likely uncover fears and insecurities that you may have buried and give you the opportunity to move through these feelings with the loving support of your partner. You can work through your fear of being left and insecurity about not being enough for your partner as you see them connecting with another person but still loving and staying with you.

Cons of Honest Outsourcing

Most of us think we know the con’s of non-monogamy, because we are taught that monogamy is inherently safer, easier, and more fulfilling. There certainly are challenges associated with opening up a relationship. You may feel jealous or fear being abandoned, and you may feel hurt at times. If you decide to practice some kind of honest outsourcing, you will likely experience misunderstandings, imperfect communication, and crossed boundaries. Even if the two of you are very good at communicating your needs and boundaries around being with other people, miscommunication is still possible. For some people, it will simply be against their grain – those folks feel more relaxed and fulfilled in monogamy and opening up is undesirable or beyond their capacity. The biggest challenges we have seen in relationships are when one person wants monogamy and the other wants to be open, it can work but it’s tougher.

It’s All Part of The Deal

Many people think they can avoid hurt or ever crossing boundaries in relationships, so they try to avoid any conversation or action that might bring up hurt or fear. However, any two people have differences, misunderstandings, and wounds that get triggered, and hurts and challenges are a normal part of relationships, both monogamous and non-monogamous. Learning how to take responsibility for your feelings, fears and actions and giving each other attentive, empathetic and listening will give you an opportunity to get through the hurt and back into your peaceful, loving connection with your partner.

If you are interested in beginning to open your relationship, keep your eye out for our next blog, 6 Keys to Success in Honest Outsourcing.

“He is totally there for me, is an amazing father, and also supports me in getting my sexual and emotional needs met. Why would I go anywhere else?!” – says one of our female clients about her husband.

“I feel like I’m getting to have the college years I always dreamed of, but was too shy to enjoy.” Her husband’s comment in response.

We love these quotes because they challenge many of the assumptions people have about non-monogamous relationships and highlight the importance of honest outsourcing. Although our clients are experiencing sex outside of their marriage, it is not cheating or an affair. They are completely committed to each other and ultimately are not going anywhere that would threaten their bond. They might be outsourcing sex, but they are fully invested in love, and they are in awe of their primary partner. Part of their strength comes from supporting each other in all of their desires, whether they can meet each others needs or not.

This example of honest outsourcing may sound appealing, intriguing, or insane. What we want to emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all relationship model that works for everyone or every couple. The more you consciously co-create your relationship, the more likely it is to last. We’ve all heard about high divorce rates, and seen (or been a member of ) unhappy couples that stay together. Playing by the rules does not always lead to happiness or longevity.

Many unhappily coupled or married folks outsource dishonestly by having affairs or seeing sex workers. Despite these high rates of failure, people rarely ask, “Yes, but do monogamous relationships really work?” Monogamy is rarely scrutinized as a relationship model because, as a culture, we think of monogamy as “normal,” “natural,” or “right” and believe that staying monogamous with one person forever is the only truly successful relationship model. The belief that a lifetime of monogamy is the only way sets people up for a lot of pain and failure, as even most monogamous folks (a few unicorns aside) will generally have more than one partner in their lifetime.

We are not here to argue about whether or not monogamy is the way humans were meant to be. (For interesting discussions on monogamy and non-monogamy, check out Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, as well as Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy, by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton.) Different relationship structures work for different people. Some people will actually be more likely to sustain relationships if they are non-monogamous, while for others monogamy is an essential component to relationship longevity.

The most challenging relationships seem to be those in which one person desires monogamy while the other desires some form of an open relationship. For these relationships, especially, it is essential to make a distinction between monogamy and commitment, since people often confuse these terms. You can be highly committed to your partner and not monogamous, and you can be completely monogamous without being committed. Commitment means being dedicated to working through the challenges that show up in every relationship. It means being aware of your own feelings, needs, and capacities and communicating instead of building resentment.

There are many reasons you might consider honest outsourcing as opposed to dishonesty or divorce. It can allow you to enjoy the depth of understanding and support that a long-term loving connection offers while also experiencing the excitement of new partners. Bringing in new people can often reignite passion between you and your partner. It can also make you feel accepted in all of your desires, which helps you feel more loving towards your partner. It can increase the stability of the relationship because no one needs to leave or lie in order to get their needs met. As our clients experience demonstrated, by going outside the marriage they were actually giving themselves less reason to ever truly “go anywhere else.”

Whether you acknowledge it or not, some desires get met in your primary relationship, and some desires you outsource. We are not talking about the kind of economic outsourcing that Donald Trump promises to end if president (even though his own line of suits is manufactured overseas), we are talking about how desires can be fulfilled across different relationships. If this is negotiated openly and honestly it can be wonderful, and non-exploitative, for everyone involved.

Outsourcing can allow you to get what you need without putting all of the pressure on one relationship to give it to you. Many times you outsource desires without even thinking about it; the outsourcing doesn’t even show up on anyone’s radar because you are both fine with it. For example, perhaps you love salsa dancing but your partner hates it, so you have a group of friends who you go dancing with. Maybe your partner is relieved to never have to go again. Or maybe you like to talk a lot about your feelings, but your partner has a lower tolerance for feelings-based conversations, so you have a best friend you call when you are emotional and need some support. Problems arise when you have a desire that is not being met in the relationship but that you or your partner are not okay with you outsourcing. There is a big cultural taboo about outsourcing sex, but sex isn’t the only thing that people feel uncomfortable outsourcing.

The same examples as above can play out very differently, causing friction and long term issues. Let’s say you still love salsa dancing, and your partner still doesn’t want to do it with you but also doesn’t like the idea of you doing it with someone else. Or you may not feel very supported by your partner emotionally, but they don’t want you to share feelings with your friends, especially if you are talking about your relationship. You might be very extroverted and want to go out a few nights a week, and your partner only wants to go out once a month but gets very sad and frustrated when you go out without them. These are all examples of places where you could outsource, but doing so feels threatening or hurtful to your partner.

In all relationships, we are in an ongoing negotiation of desires, boundaries, and capacities. Each of us needs to honor the other’s desires and be as honest as possible about our own, knowing that we will sometimes feel disappointment in the face of differences.

In the following series we will talk about how people handle sexual outsourcing in their relationships in a variety of ways (polyamory, non-monogamy, open-relationships, infidelity, affairs, cheating). Some people choose to outsource dishonestly which can have many negative ramifications even if this outsourcing is never discovered. We encourage everyone to try and negotiate outsourcing honestly. While this might bring up fears, in the end, being open and honest about your needs brings the highest likelihood of long-term connection and personal fulfillment.

Many have outlined the lessons that can be learned from the Ashley Madison hack in terms of personal privacy and internet security. Others see the site hack as an example of justice being served in what they see as an increasingly immoral world. While we always promote honesty in relationships, we are less interested in passing judgement and more interested in the relationship lessons that an affair can bring to the surface and how these do not always end in despair or divorce.

Ashley Madison’s cleverly manipulative tagline “Life is short: Have an Affair” is appealing because it offers a shortcut to getting certain needs met. Instead of communicating your desires with your partner, it implies an easy fix for getting your sexual desires fulfilled. This equation does not take into account how time consuming and heartbreaking it can be to process an affair with your partner. This is a lesson many Ashley Madison users are now learning the hard way, and maybe others can also take this lesson to heart before they cheat.

As a society, we think of cheating as the ultimate, unforgivable sin. But we see so many different problems surface in relationships that can be just as damaging such as withholding love, sex, or affection. As the “injured party,” the person who was cheated on may feel self-righteous and refuse to consider how their behavior may have contributed to problems in the relationship in general. They may refuse to have any compassion for the ways that their partner’s denied desires or fears and wounds led to the affair. When this happens communication becomes limited to a loop of apology and blame, which does not allow for a couple to reconnect.

It is undeniable that finding out about an affair can be extremely painful. Your partner, in whom you’ve invested so much trust, has lied to you and broken an agreement. At the same time, if you want to recover from an affair, it will not help to think of one of you as the helpless victim and the other as the evil perpetrator. Once cheating has been discovered or confessed, both parties need to decide if they want to face the process of looking at the issues in the relationship (and the affair as a symptom of these issues) rather than labeling the person who had the affair the cause of the problem.

For some people, those who find it unthinkable to actually communicate their desires to their partner, an affair might present a unique moment of crisis that can help save a struggling relationship. It can be a moment where honesty comes flooding out in all directions. We have helped many couples turn relationship crisis into an opportunity, and finding out about an affair, or even an attempted affair, puts most couples in a crisis. We agree with Ashley Madison in that “life is short”, which is exactly why honestly communicating your desires is so important.

​OK, let us start by saying that these may not actually be easy, but neither is having an affair and all of the residual problems that follow which can lead to a break up that neither party truly wants. So now that we have been honest with you, we think you can tackle number 1.

​1. Be honest – The best way to avoid an affair is to be honest about your desires up front as soon as they arise or once you have overcome your sense of shame for having them. For this to work best, you and your partner must create an ethic of acceptance around each other’s desires, even those that are scary or threatening. Some people are afraid to even share their sexual desires or talk about the possibility of being with someone else because they fear that their partner will judge them, stop loving them, resent them, or begin watching their every move to make sure that they are not seeing anyone else.

​2. Negotiate your Relationship Contract – Evaluate your Relationship Contract frequently and look at the boundaries you have set in your relationship or your resistance to certain sexual desires and practices. See if there has been any movement in those boundaries or if you are willing to explore the possibility of shifting them. If you do decide to expand your boundaries, it is important to do so slowly and with lots of communication. It is also important to remember that trying something out to see if it is okay with you does not mean agreeing to it forever. When working with couples on shifting boundaries, we always emphasize how important it is that people not go beyond their boundaries and shift into resentment.

​3. Make room for disappointmentt – Make room for each other’s disappointment when yours or their needs are not being met. Often, if you are merely allowed to openly and shamelessly ask for what you want and receive the support of your partner in having those desires, that can be enough. Then, even if it is beyond your partner’s capacity to allow you to meet those desires out in the world, they at least understand that you are disappointed, and you can feel loved and accepted by them.

​4. Turn a threat into an opportunity – You might also see if there is any part of your partner’s desires that you can play with or explore through fantasy and role play. If your partner wants to have sex with other people, you might dress up, pretend you are someone else, and have them pick you up for a night of sex. You might have a secret affair with your partner, complete with afternoon rendezvous, or you might go out cruising together and check out whom you’d each like to pick up. If your partner desires threesomes or group sex, you might come up with a hot threesome or group-sex fantasy to whisper in their ear during sex.

For some people, just having their desires heard and accepted will be enough. Others might not be satisfied with this solution, and their partners will need to listen to their disappointment or discuss outsourcing. The longer desires go unspoken and unheard, the stronger they are when they come out, so early acceptance is important.