SAFAFU: How Do I Tell My Partner I’m Interested In Non-Monogamy?

By Cathy Reisenwitz


I can’t tell you how many friends have confided to me, usually women in relationships with men, that they’d love to open their relationships up, but absolutely fear and dread having that conversation with their boyfriends. A fair number have also had that conversation, and had it not go well.

Please go ahead and have this conversation. If your relationship can’t handle a mere conversation about non-monogamy, monogamy is the least of your problems.

I’m not sure what the point of a sexual relationship is if you need to keep what you want in bed to yourself, even if what you want is someone else.

Even if you ultimately decide against opening up, it’s a worthwhile goal to avoid wondering what would have happened if you’d tried.

Here are some tips for making the conversation as smooth, fun, and productive as possible.

Make it about you.

When your beloved wants to fuck someone else, a natural first thought is, “I have failed as a lover.” Especially for people with anxiety, your desire to open up doesn’t just make them afraid about the future, it makes them feel insecure about the past and present.

The truth is that a desire for non-monogamy doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your partner. Ultimately, if you want to slut around a bit, that’s because you’re a bit of a slut, not because there’s anything lacking in your love. Make sure your partner knows this by emphasizing that this is about who you are and what you need. It helps to think about monogamy like an orientation. Some people like it and are naturally well-suited to it. Others have a wandering eye and are less inclined toward having only one partner at a time.

As much as possible, say “I” instead of “you.” For example, “You’re not meeting my needs” is anxiety-inducing. “I’m very curious about other partners” is slightly less so.

Be honest.


While ultimately your desire to open up is about you, perhaps there is something specific you’re looking for outside of your primary relationship. One of the most common reasons straight women want to open up is that their primary partners are naturally submissive lovers and they have a strong desire to be dominated with skill and enthusiasm. In these cases it can make a lot of sense to outsource domination rather than trying to get a partner to do something they don’t like and aren’t good at.

Maybe you’re bi and really want to explore that side of your sexuality. Or maybe you have a specific kink your partner is just really not that into.

If that’s your reasoning, just be honest about it. There’s no need for it to be a shame or blame-fest. There’s nothing wrong with being vanilla or a guy or submissive. These are value-neutral attributes.

The reason you want to be honest at the very beginning, about everything, is that it sets up a solid foundation from which to spring forth into ethical non-monogamy. The ethical part of non-monogamy is honesty. ENM relationships are absolutely faithful, but to promises, not people.

You cannot love someone if you don’t know them, and you can’t know them if they’re not honest with you. Getting to know someone who can’t be honest is getting to know a character, a set of lies and misdirection. In my experience, it’s sad and small and not worth bothering with.

Most people settle for limiting their genitals to one other set of genitals without stopping to really examine whether that actually has anything to do with emotional and mental intimacy. Emotional closeness is built on how truthful you are to someone. It’s the hard work of aligning your actions, thoughts, feelings, and words. It is not, in my experience, about what you do with your genitals. Mature love is about intertwining minds and emotions, letting someone in on who you really are. Intimacy is inextricably linked with vulnerability. Brutal honesty is the only way to get there.

Start with honesty at the beginning and you have a chance at real intimacy.

Be accommodating.

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At first, your partner will likely want to put strict controls on everything. Only girls, or only with clothes on, or only kissing, or no oral, etc. This is a test. It’s a baby pool. Whining and acting entitled will get you nowhere, so stop. Abide by your partner’s rules, however dumb and arbitrary they may be. For whatever reason those parameters have meaning to them.

Showing immediate respect for those parameters is showing respect for your relationship. Honesty only when it’s easy or meets your goals isn’t real honesty. And respecting rules and keeping promises when it makes sense to you and suits your agenda isn’t respect.

Staying within the parameters your partner sets is showing your lover that they matter more to you than slutting around. If your partner doesn’t matter more to you than your freedom to have unprotected oral or whatever it is you want to do, you don’t need ethical non-monogamy, you need to break up.

If your partner says, “Okay, but only,” respond with, “I respect your wishes.”

In all likelihood, your partner will see you abiding by the rules and stop worrying. They will realize that these rules are arbitrary and unnecessary, and lift them. If they don’t, that may be a sign ENM isn’t for them.

Be patient.


If you get the go ahead, the work has just begun. ENM is a workout for your emotional maturity and time-management muscles. The rewards are tremendous. ENM is sandpaper, rubbing away your jealousy and insecurity. And often it feels as good as sandpaper on your skin. The first time you hear your lover excitedly tell you about someone else they boned or want to bone is terrifying and humiliating. The second time, less so. Soon, you’re relishing in their fun and genuinely excited for them.

However, workouts are tiring. I can’t stress how much work ENM is.

People are going to get jealous. They’re going to act irrationally. They’re going to make mistakes. This kind of shit will probably begin at your first conversation about ENM.

If you are patient and humble, starting with that first conversation, the good news is that it gets easier over time.


Images: starbuck77/Flickr; Giphy (4)

Cathy Reisenwitz is a D.C.-based writer. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. She has been quoted by the New York Times Magazine and has been a columnist at and Bitcoin Magazine. Her media appearances include Fox News and Al Jazeera America. She serves on the Board of Advisors for the Center for a Stateless Society.

1 Comment

  • Reply June 27, 2015


    Intimacy is inextricably linked with vulnerability. Brutal honesty is the only way to get there
    I would argue for the virtues of gentle honesty, rather than the brutal kind. You do have a choice how you present yourself to people you care about.

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