Thanks for reading Can We Talk?, a sex and relationships column that aims to tackle the burning questions about sex, dating, relationships, and breakups that you’re too afraid to ask your partner — or maybe even your besties. Today, relationship therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare, LMFT, helps someone who wants to take their open relationship to the next level by inviting their partner to a sex party.
Do you have a question for DeGeare about feeling ignored by a partner or potential lover that you'd you’d like to see answered as part of a future Can We Talk? Submit it here or send us an email at CanWeTalk@Refinery29.com.
My partner and I have been together for over eight years. We have an open relationship but he’s never acted on it (I have). As a way to explore new sexual experiences together, I want to try a “sex party.” It sounds fun, and exploring my sexuality is a huge part of embracing my queer identity within a straight-passing relationship. I don’t think he’d mind me trying it out on my own, but I’d love for him to be included. He has always loved and supported my queerness, and this would be an opportunity to bring him into my sexual world. But, it would be a big step for him and I don't want him to think I'm disappointed in our sex life by bringing this up.
Conversations about the dynamic of our open relationship are typically stressful for me as I'm the only one acting on it. My partner is very easygoing and reminds me constantly that he trusts me. Despite our frequent communication, I think there's a fear that I'll somehow cross a line and ruin our wonderful partnership. I think my discomfort stems more from a fear that I'm a "greedy bisexual" and not a misunderstanding of boundaries.
But I'm wondering: Is there a baby step that I could take to introduce this? I’m not sure how to bring it up so that he doesn’t feel pressured to do something completely out of his comfort zone. I want to respect his boundaries while trying something new.
Party for one?
Party for one?
Dear Party For One,
What if your partner says yes? If you stop reading this article in the next 30 seconds, I hope that what you take away is that — with open communication — it could all work out. And it could lead to an outcome better than you ever dreamed. Perhaps just asking is the key to unlocking your next level of relationship intimacy and pleasure. You'll never know until you try, but I realize that starting these conversations is easier said than done.
Of course, he could also say no, which I know is not the outcome you crave. But it would move you out of limbo, giving you clarity as to whether this is something you both want.
The beauty of many queer and open partnerships is that you can create your own dynamics and rules. You can design your very own relationship playbook based on each individual's needs and wants. To do this, I suggest having continued conversations about what each person desires. You can start such brave talks by challenging yourself to bring up hard-feeling topics more frequently, perhaps by putting a set time every other week on the calendar for you and your partner to sit down and chat about the relationship (if you don't already do this). As you breach tricky subjects, remember: you two seem to really like each other. Keeping this in mind helps a ton in brave conversations.
Before you discuss your play party question, I'd first ask yourself if you are prioritizing your own desires and curiosities over your partner's needs. In the craving to invite your partner in, you could be losing sight of the gorgeous trust you've already built together. Now, this is very different from being "greedy," an inner story I can see you are telling yourself — in fact, you seem just the opposite, as you've clearly put a lot of thought into how your partner might respond to this question already.
Like I said, there's much to be gained from just asking him about the pleasure party and similar questions — but it's also important to listen to his answer and accept it. Honor that you're both individuals with different needs. Perhaps one reason you two are drawn to each other is not only your similarities but your differences.
It sounds like you and your partner have a great dynamic, but these early moments of keeping our desires from our partner can often lead to bigger ruptures in the relationship down the line. I imagine one of the reasons you opened your relationship in the first place was so you each could lead a life that's fulfilling your individual needs. And now, just because you're sharing your desire doesn't mean you have to act on it. Just having the conversation can be good for the life you two are building. When the inner world is out of sync with the rest of the relationship, we often feel it, but struggle to identify exactly where the disconnect is. Luckily, you know exactly what is happening for you — now, you just need to invite your partner into the conversation to see what's happening for them.
As you start this particular discussion about him exploring more within your open relationship, make sure you're not rushed or distracted — and, ideally, rested and fed. I encourage you to try to avoid blurting this out in an unrelated argument. This can be a delicate dance of balancing your needs, theirs, and that of your shared relationship together. It all comes down to both of you being clear in expressing what you want and what you don't.
Keep in mind that exploring your own sexuality is not a reflection of what your partner has or doesn't have or desire; it truly is about a deeper finding of yourself. Your sexual identity is independent of the relationship you are in and is for you only to define — the same goes for your partner. Keeping some level of autonomy in the conversations with our partners can sometimes feel hard as we balance their needs with our own, but, especially when it comes to conversations on sexuality, this is key.
If your partner does say yes — with the caveat of "I'm scared, curious, and nervous to try new things with you" — reinforce to them that, if at any point along the way, they feel a bad kind of discomfort, you two can stop, slow down, or change course. Just because they say “Yes, I want to try” does not mean everyone involved can’t change their minds. Exploring new experiences together is important, but knowing when to say no is just as important.
For many of us in long-term relationships, when things are good — or even exceptionally great — we wonder: should we risk that by pushing to a new place of understanding? Oftentimes the answer is yes, but sometimes it honestly is no. That's why it's so important to know you can change your minds.
Now, you asked if there was a great "baby step" question to ask your partner. You could try something like: “Is the open relationship we have right now pushing you to the furthest point in your comfort zone? Are you open to taking a step or two further with me?” The big “problem” with trying something new is, we're embracing living in a little discomfort. It's so hard to know if the new thing will bring deep joy or not. With this in mind, what we want to try to avoid is having one or both of you holding in a lot of anxiety. If you notice that bubbling up, consider naming it and going forward (or back) from there.
I could see how going from not exploring outside of your relationship to walking into a sex party could feel daunting to anyone. Some more "baby steps" could be discussing what it might feel like to swipe on a dating app together. An inclusive dating app such as Feeld might feel the safest, as there will likely be other couples there exploring polyamory and open relationships. As you try this, ask: How is this changing your relationship dynamic? Is it evolving in a way that continues to be satisfying for you both? This is a great check-in question to have in a Google document that anyone can add to when they are processing, to be discussed later when you're ready for a deep talk.
Another suggestion: I'd check out The Chosen Family Podcast's episode #026, in which they note that one of the hardest things about trying new experiences is moving from something that is good to something that we don’t know if we are going to even like. The episode discusses taking creative leaps, but I see expanding our relationships as some of our most profound creative projects. Mak Ingemi says on the podcast: “When you have already been so successful at something else, it’s so hard to step into something that you know you are going to be bad at or there is a learning curve with it.”
You as a couple have already figured out how to have an open relationship that feels good, and opening this conversation with your partner will naturally contain many learning curve moments for you both. But when we lean into how our communication and emotional intimacy, we give ourselves opportunities to increase closeness in our relationships. Meanwhile, when we block curiosity, we are shutting down parts of ourselves, and, when we do that, we cut off our partner from knowing us as completely as another person can.
In the end, as you bring up this question to your partner, I see this as a starting place for a new chapter in your relationship together. As you open this conversation, don't go in with one set goal in mind. Remember that where you go from here might be a far more intimate place than where you are right now. Trust that exploring this together is "the good stuff" of the relationship — and not something to miss out on.
DeGeare is a licensed marriage and family therapist, who specializes in intimacy, LGBTQIA+ relationships, mixed-culture couples, and racial identity development. She is also the in-house relationship expert for the partnership app Paired. The advice in this column is to point you in a direction that encourages healing and creates safety for you in this world. It is not to replace the relationship with a licensed mental health professional who knows your personal history.