Mistake #4: New to Polyamory, I Was Having Sex With Everyone *Except* My Primary Partner

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Whenever I tell monogamous folks that I’m polyamorous, they tend to reduce it to being solely about having sex with multiple people. But that’s just not true—there are tons of reasons why polyamory can be appealing. You get to explore different types of romance, have fulfilling connections with partners who meet various needs, and so on. It’s not just about sex, guys…

Okbutletsbehonest, it’s a huge goddamn part of it—at least, it is for me. I crave novelty in my sex life, and what’s more novel than a new person (or five)? This freedom, along with getting to foster emotional connections with other partners, is one of the things that attracted me to polyamory in the first place.

navigating non monogamy

So when I entered my first real poly relationship shortly after a year of monogamous sex, I was ecstatic (read: ready to bone a ton of people). My new boyfriend (who I lived with, along with his wife—yes, he was married) and I didn’t set any ground rules for our dynamic beyond respect and honesty. He made it clear he didn’t want to impede me from having fulfilling connections, and he liked knowing that even though I had all the options in the world, I was still choosing him as my primary partner, which made our bond special. We could both have sex with whoever we wanted as long as we were honest with each other about it… so you better believe I took advantage.

I became (how do I put this delicately?) a fuck machine. I was having sex with people of all genders like it was my fucking job. I’d hook up with guys from Grindr during my lunch break and return to my Zoom meetings just minutes later as if nothing happened. In the evenings, I’d set up passionate hookups with women, and if I was in the mood, I’d ask them to tie me up. I had endless options, and needless to say, life felt pretty freakin’ incredible. For the first time in 25 years, I felt sexually fulfilled while in a committed relationship. I was having my cake and eating theirs it too.

My boyfriend, who was also pretty new to polyamory, wasn’t just chill about all this—he actually encouraged it, which is rare. Most people who are still learning how to make polyamory work for them struggle with jealousy, at least to some degree, but he was just happy I was sexually fulfilled and having fun. And I was happy that he could feel good in his marriage while still dating me. Plus, he had his own rotation of fuck buddies, so it’s not like he was waiting around for me to come home to him at the end of the day. It felt like an equal balance of outside fuckery and intimacy between the two of us.

But there was one big consequence to my nonstop sexual escapades that ultimately and unfortunately resulted in the demise of my relationship: After a while, my boyfriend and I eventually stopped having sex with each other.

To be fair, our sex wasn’t great from the start. I’m not sure why, because he was extremely handsome, great at kissing, and knew his way around a penis, but together, we didn’t fully click. I was also just so tired by the time he wanted to have sex…probably because I’d been using up all my energy on all the other people I was hooking up with. When you crave novelty and had hot sex an hour ago with someone new, you’re often not in the mood to do it again, especially with someone you’ve already had sex with multiple times. The prospect of sex with my partner just didn’t feel exciting or, quite frankly, worth the energy.

“I tried so hard to convince myself that a sexless relationship would be fine.”

Eventually, he called me out. “It’s clear that you don’t like having sex with me,” he said. Once the initial shock of his bluntness wore off, I agreed and burst into tears. In return, when he suggested we have a celibate relationship (bless him), I told him that’s not what I wanted. So the conversation ended there, and instead of agreeing to improve our sex life—which would take work and vulnerability from both of us—we just shoved the issue under the rug and kept fucking everyone else but each other. It was, simply put, easier that way.

If I’m being perfectly honest, the real reason I didn’t want to have more conversations about our sex life was because I was scared they would lead to the end of our relationship, and I didn’t think there was a solution other than, well, to end it. But I still loved him! I didn’t want to break up! Even though we weren’t having sex, we had a supportive and beautiful relationship—one that fulfilled me in many other special ways. I tried so hard to convince myself that a sexless relationship would be fine because working on it together would be pointless, it’d always be meh no matter what, so why bother? But you can’t just avoid an issue or a big conversation because you’re scared. In fact, that’s all the more reason to talk about it—so you can address it and work toward a solution together. And ideally, you’d do this before it becomes a larger issue.

My boyfriend and I avoided the topic for months, and even though I thought that’s what would save us, it had the opposite effect. We eventually broke up, and, as I expected, it was incredibly painful. But at the end of the day, I should want to have sex with my primary partner—sex is too important to me to not be an element in my primary relationship, and I should want to prioritize it with whoever is in that role.

navigating nonmonogamy

And don’t get me wrong—some people, especially fraysexual folks, are totally fine with having non-sexual relationships with their primary and then exciting sex with others. For a while, I thought that’s what I wanted, too. But over time, I realized that I still want to have at least some type of sexual relationship with my primary, even if it’s not the best sex in the world. Despite being poly for nearly a decade, this is a new discovery for me, and I’m still adjusting to the fact that my sexuality is allowed to evolve. In fact, it probably always will.

Even though our breakup was the best thing for both of us, I regret that I forgot to make my primary partner my primary in every way. But letting your sex life grow stale isn’t just an ENM thing. No matter what kind of relationship you’re in, it’s easy to de-prioritize sex and ignore it altogether as you get more comfortable. Not to mention, sex can get pretty boring for some people if you keep doing the same things over and over again. And when it does, you can either settle for a meh sex life, stop having sex altogether (don’t recommend!), break up, or you can choose to communicate with your partner and work towards a better sex life together by exploring new fantasies and trying new things.

As a sex columnist, I hate—nay, loathe—the phrase “spice things up.” (It’s just so vague!) But there’s a reason why sexperts say it. When you love your partner but the sex gets boring, you gotta (I’m sorry) spice things up! That said, there are two things I wish I had known before I incorporated this advice into my own life.

“You might not like being spanked or calling your partner ‘daddy.'”

First: Don’t do what I did and let your mind go to a place of dread and worry, thinking your relationship is doomed and that there’s no way you and your partner will ever get your groove back. I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but remember—these phases are common. Instead, reframe your thinking. Trying new things is fun. Laugh as you have sex. It doesn’t need to be so serious all the time.

And second: Know that the first few things you try might not work! You might not like being spanked or calling your partner “daddy.” The first sex toy you try might not fit! Anal might be too painful! [Editor’s note: Though we can actually help you with that.] But trudge on. Explore role play, new sex positions, and different sex toys. Eventually, something will stick. And when that grows tiresome, you spice things up yet again. Rinse and repeat.

And if you do eventually get bored, well, then, maybe it’s time to invite a third into the bedroom. This is a non-monogamy column, after all.

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