Opening Up: Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships Paperback – 4 Oct 2008
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"A luscious smorgasbord of non-monogamy as an opportunity for breaking free of one-way models of sex and love. Taormino's discussion is remarkably nuanced and balanced--and encourages readers to proceed with their eyes wide open." -- Jack Morin, PhD, author of The Erotic Mind
"Courageous, stunningly thorough and inspiring. If you need a pathfinding guide for evolving your relationships, this is it." -- Daphne Rose Kingma, author of The Future of Love
"Superbly informative, sympathetic and literate."
-- Dr. Gloria Brame, author of Different Loving
"Taormino cuts through all the utopian theory and gets down to what people really need: the nuts and bolts of how open relationships work. I want to give Opening Up to everyone I know who asks, 'How do you do it?'" -- Susie Bright, editor of Best American Erotica Series
"This is the book you want to read if you're looking for a voice that is balanced, sensitive and sensible when tackling the thorny question of sexual boundaries in love relationships. Opening Up is sure to open up your mind." -- Esther Perel, author of Mating In Captivity: Unlocking Erotica Intelligence
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Among the book's chief strengths is its breadth. Taormino conducted over 120 interviews with a diverse sample of the nonmonogamous - people of varying ages, sexualities, and (most of all) approaches to relationships. This variety is highlighted by six chapters on different types of open relationships, discussing each types particular advantages and challenges and sharing the experiences of individuals, couples, and group relationships.
The later chapters tackle particular issues and problems common to open relationships, from the emotional (managing jealousy, coming out) to the practical (safer sex, legal and financial protections). Taormino moves beyond the platitudes common to discussions of nomonogamy - "Communicate! Be Honest! Own your feelings!" - and provides concrete advice on how to approach difficult conversations, disentangle emotional reactions, develop and follow agreements, and respond to change.
The book's heavy use of quotations and anecdotes from interview subjects, and its effort to be accessible and inclusive, result in an approach that mutes the distinctive voice and focus on sexual exploration that mark Taormino's other work as an author, editor, educator and pornographer. In-depth discussions of group sex are not to be found (Taormino recommends Vicki Vantock's Threesome Handbook); instead, the focus is on the emotional aspect of relationships, and sexual details come up only in the context of forming agreements and protecting your partners. With a few exceptions - such as her criticism of the "radical honesty" school of intimate communication - the book presents varied opinions and approaches in a neutral, descriptive fashion; rather than question the importance of gender and heterosexual intercourse to many people's relationship agreements, for example, she simply recognizes these as emotional facts to be addressed.
This book will be most interesting to those relatively new to thinking about, or doing, open relationships. But while those for whom nonmonogamy is familiar may be tempted to skim or skip this book (or any new book on the subject), nearly everyone will find something thought-provoking, such as the discussion of mono/poly relationships (which poly folk sometimes regard as doomed to fail, in much the way many monogamous folks regard polyamory generally), the evolution of group relationships, and coping with major changes in wants, needs, and circumstances.
To be honest, I was half way between fear and weariness in my emotional take on this book. Fear? I was and am monogamous so fear for sure; but weary of judging my two or three friends who were oriented this way with multiple lovers. I felt their honesty and candor and approach to sexual integrity was scoring far better than mine. Not to mention more often! Yes, finding more integrity in their relationships than many of my church friends, some of whom were defending to the death their long dead marriages; lifeless, dry, sexless "relationships".
With Taormino's interviews of 100 plus folks in alternative relationships, a few things stood out for me as a traditional type married and sometimes churchy guy. All of us could learn a good deal from Tristan's book here on the matter of communication and honesty. I've learned from this title what a joy it is, for example, to have permission from a spouse to notice hot ladies in the street or market. And to have talked out before such events just where the jealousy thing begins and ends and to simply be able to feel free as a man to appreciate the life force around me. Yes, feel good.
Relationship with self? Yes, important. I decided to come out erotically with my thoughts yet with the blessing of my monogamous spouse. Communication and honesty! Saying out loud who you are and what you want, what you desire. That's what this book was about for me.
Opening Up will open up a few closed minds. This doesn't have to mean that if you are into traditional marriage that you have to dial down your commitment to monogamy or start groping ladies in elevators. Contrarily, it is an invitation to appreciate how people around us are different and how others approach communication and truth telling, approach honesty with those whom they care deeply.
Another thing that stood out for me with this book is how incredibly mature a couple or an established threesome has to be to have a polyamory-styled relationship that works or seems to work. If anything, the book gave me new faith in why a jealous God just might have designed a more vanilla styled monogamy (dare I say "dumbed down"?) for the rest of us as a matter of course. Let's face it. Most of us just simply are not grown up enough to do this multiple lover thing with the integrity, honesty and full out communication needed for it to work. If it indeed can work over the long haul. But then we high horse church folk must be reminded: just how many of our marriages work or are even long haul these days?
Again, to be honest, Taormino's research and writing is just a fun, voyeuristic read. Like going "people watching" downtown for fun. It's always a kick to see how other folks live. And how sweet to learn of the post WWII "flyboys" that invented polyamory in this country, men who would take on a second woman, a widow, in order to fulfill a dying wish of a comrade in war; that a friend, a war buddy, take care of the woman he loved and must now leave in death. My, my.
Couples should read this together as it is sure to fuel many an interesting conversation between traditional spouses. And it will, as I have said, go a long way towards bringing insights into the monogamy path--like how to get over the thoughts and behaviors around "owning" someone; and how to be better at living in the abandonment and falling part of love. Indeed, how does one let oneself be in love in the moment, holding a beloved's heart gently in an open hand; rather than tightly in a closed and married fist? Interesting question.
Hey, and this, too: we are getting older. So think about it. Is death not the other lover (Eros and Thanatos, ever the pair in literature) who will edge in one day and get his or her way soon enough between the monogamous two of you? Indeed.
So maybe all mortal and traditional marriages are threesomes. Foursomes I suppose, if God is watching and participating, or invited to. Hey, open up!
Yes, traditional folk in happy relationships could gain from reading Tristan Taormino's scary work. But then lovers who care for things to stay hot and edgy must always be brave I think. For one, I'm a romantic and a one woman kind of man. But I loved this book. And, I also confess, I just got brave enough to read Ethical Slut. Now that took courage, learning how to be ethically naughty? Nice.
Though the author obviously favors open relationships, she cautions that substantial self-awareness and self-evaluation are needed before embarking on such. She emphasizes that communication, honesty, boundaries, and trust are absolutely essential to form and maintain viable non-monogamous relationships. Even in established relationships, feelings of jealousy, envy, insecurity, and loneliness are constant threats to stability. Renewal and adaptability are watchwords for success.
While not blatantly so, the book is somewhat geared to bisexuals and gays involved with non-monogamy, perhaps reflecting the composition of non-monogamous practitioners. Only a few of her interviewees were completely straight and monogamous. Also, while the author issues warnings about embarking on non-monogamy, one gets the sense that the emotional difficulties and ramifications of opening up are considerably understated. The author makes no claims to being a psychology expert, instead relying mostly on her personal experiences and of those she interviewed. Nonetheless, the book seems to be good overview on the subject of non-monogamy.
The good news is, I was wrong. Taormino has really outdone herself and created a resource that will be many things to many different people. Within this one book, the author offers the reader a brief history of non-monogamy, details the numerous types of open relationships, and offers advice for dealing with everything from coming out to raising children to legal problems. Whether you're trying to work the kinks out of your own open relationship, contemplating non-monogamy, or simply trying to better understand how other people live, you're sure to find help in this exhaustive guide.
Besides being packed full of information, Taormino's accessible style of writing makes this an enjoyable read. She also interviewed over 100 people who are non-monogamous. Their personal stories give an inside view into the ups and downs of open relationships, which sound often similar to those I've experienced in monogamy. By offering a glimpse into the lives of people who choose to have multiple partners, it's easy to see the similarities and relate.
I was also surprised to find our choice of monogamy completely validated in a book that is about healthy open relationships. It makes sense that core principles like trust, communication, and respect would be the foundation of any relationship and in her discussion of these things I found a lot of validation. In fact, about a quarter of the way through this book I had a sneaking suspicion that I was not only reading, but enjoying, a self-help book.
While non-monogamy isn't for everyone, as Taormino point out throughout, the author has written a guide that offers honest advice on sustaining fulfilling relationships. I highly recommend it to anyone who's the least bit curious!