My long-distance mate wants us to open our relationship, but we haven't even had sex yet

Question

Greetings. I'm currently engaged in a long distance relationship that's lasted approximately four months. We both love each other dearly, but are not able to visit in person frequently. In fact, we only just saw each other for the first time on the 17th of December, having made the relationship official in early August. During MFF 2016, however, he ended up getting a little too close with another furry for my comfort, and it went past the boundaries that we had previously established for the relationship. There was no actual sex, but some rather dirty dancing did happen, and eventually my BF ended up in the bedroom with that same furry cuddling in a quasi-sexual manner. He stopped before they got any further, but it wasn't something I was comfortable with. We made up quite soon afterward, and he told me that he was sorry for stepping out of line. Fast forward to Christmas day this year, and he's told me that things aren't as satisfying for him as he would like. Keep in mind, we've only sex-roleplayed over Telegram and haven't done much else. No sexual Skype chats, nudes, nothing else. Well, he wanted to know if it would be ok for him to do cuddling in and occasionally out of suit. That's something I think I would be able to get along with as long as it was relatively safe. Then he asked for some dirty dancing, and that's when I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. Then he asked for doing things with other people up to but not including anal. This is where I started having some really mixed feelings. On one hand, I want him to be satisfied in this relationship and I want us both to be happy. He also mentioned that he still wants me as the primary mate, and that he's not looking to replace me or anything. On the other hand, we haven't even kissed each other in real life, let alone had sex. I feel like I am being replaced even though we've never done anything in real life to begin with! I really want to be able to let him enjoy himself more, and in my own fantasies the idea is quite arousing. However I've been struggling with depression for a while now and I would feel crushed knowing that some other random furry had sexual relations with him before I could even kiss him. The idea came up of "How about if I don't tell you? A kind of what happens at the con stays at the con deal.” The problem with that is that I would know that every con he goes to he's probably doing something sexual and I'd feel even more helpless. He's told me that he would be willing to let me have physical/RP relations with other people too, but RP just isn't the same as real sex, and I haven't a chance at real physical encounters because I'm not comfortable with using Grindr or just random hookups, and I don't have a car. I'm truly at a loss here. I love him dearly, he's my whole world. We make each other better people, we're there for each other through thick and thin. Again, he's made it clear that he still loves me dearly and wants us to stay together. I'm determined to make this work too, I really truly am. But I need some help here, and I would like to hear your guys' opinion on the matter. I also plan to talk about this with my therapist. Thank you for your time.

Received via email (name withheld)

Answer

Thanks much for your question! There are a lot of moving parts to opening up a relationship, and there are a lot of issues at play in your particular situation. I think I’ll start by tackling the core issues and insecurities that I think are driving your current turmoil over opening up the relationship, and then I’ll address some additional topics that are specific to your situation.

The key thing to remember when opening up a relationship is that there are different kinds of sex. There's romantically invested sex (that is, the kind of sex he would be having with you), and there's sex that is for fun and perhaps friendship or bonding (the kind of sex he'd like to have with other furries, in addition to you). Letting your mate have that second kind of sex with other people doesn't necessarily take anything away from you in terms of what intimacy is possible between you two, assuming your mate is smart and plays with others safely — unless what is most important to you is monogamy and exclusivity (both of which are perfectly legitimate things to need or want).

It might not be clear exactly what I mean when I say that you need not be losing anything, because many people do experience opening up a relationship as some kind of a loss, so let me unpack what I mean a bit more carefully by means of an example of this kind of stoicism:

Let's say your mate is at a con, and you aren't. Whether your mate is at the fursuit dance competition or he's getting a naked lap dance from a friend, it doesn't affect you in any way unless you choose to let it. At the end of the day, your mate is having fun and enjoying himself, and if sex weren't involved, you'd probably be happy to hear that. You'd be feeling compersion, or happiness derived purely from his happiness. As stoicism and mindfulness practices would indicate, you don't have to treat sex any differently.

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Just remember that the kind of sex your mate would have with you is very different; that's something only you get if you're in a monogamish or open relationship (or something only you and other romantic partners get, if you eventually become polyamorous or relationship anarchists). The sex he has with other people is about friendship and pleasure, whereas the sex he has with you is about those things as well as love and romance.

One thing that is unclear from your question is whether your mate is craving romantic sex, sex for fun, or both. It seems to me that he is primary craving sex for fun at this point, which is perfectly okay. However, if that is the case, it might be useful to clarify with your mate how important sexual variety is to him. It might be that he’s looking for sex with others simply because you aren’t available, or it might be that he’s looking for sex with others because he craves novelty and variety and having just one sex partner isn’t something he is interested in.

If your mate’s issue is that he just needs sex, and he’d rather it be with you, then an expedient solution to your problem might be to simply visit your mate when possible to get it out of his system, and to make concrete plans to move to be closer to your mate (whenever such is practical). In this case, opening up your relationship might not be so important, especially before you gain sexual access to your mate.

If instead what your mate is craving is sexual variety and spontaneity, then it may not be possible to remain with your mate happily without opening up the relationship. In this case, it might be in your best interest not to dwell on whether you are your mate’s next sex partner (again keeping in mind that the kind of loving sex your mate will have with you is very different than the assisted-masturbation type of just-for-fun sex he might have with a friend or a friendly acquaintance). 

If you want to keep some sexual things special to your relationship, that's perfectly understandable and might help you deal with him playing with others. Perhaps you only go bare together, or you only have anal sex together, or you only French kiss together. However, if you go this route, it's extremely important to remember that keeping an activity special is merely a symbol for the specialness of your relationship, and breaking the symbol doesn't mean you have broken the specialness of your bond. Again, you haven't actually lost anything if your mate does the special activity with someone else, unless you choose to perceive it that way. If you don't go into it with this thought in mind, you and your mate are potentially setting a trap for each other.

Let's say for example that your mate gets passionate with a friend and is grinding with him and his penis accidentally slips a few inches inside of the other person. If your mate thinks that by doing so he's done something that will destroy his relationship with you, his incentive will be to cover up the mistake, or maybe even to throw caution to the wind and finish inside of the other person. However, if you make it clear in advance that you understand that mistakes happen and that what is important is the symbolic meaning and not there actual fact of whether his penis has been inside of anyone else, he's far more likely to be honest and diligent about trying to preserve the symbol over time.

Your mate's idea of a “don't ask don't tell for cons” is an interesting one, and I have seen it work for some couples, but it might not work for you if you have a very active imagination. Personally, I find the details of what happened comforting in these situations, so I ask my mates for full disclosure if they play with others. However, if you go this route and ask for full disclosure, then of course you have to be able to handle the details without lashing out at your partner in a jealous rage.

A useful compromise might be to have a “don't ask, don't tell” policy during the con, but then your mate tells you about what happened once he's back home. That way you get the reassurance of knowing what happened, and your mate gets freedom and fun while he's at the con. If your mate is likely to forget details if he doesn't tell you right away, have him keep a con diary, and ask him to share it with you after the con is over.

At one point in your letter you mention that you actually find the idea of your mate having sexual variety to be arousing, at least in fantasy. It’s great if you think you might be able to eroticize your mate’s sex with others into some kind of a mutually enjoyable cuckold dynamic, but I think it is important to warn you that your mate’s sex with others might still affect you emotionally, even if you think you’re totally okay with it and are sexually turned on by it. Make sure you are emotionally honest with yourself and with your mate and that you don’t end up masking a deep sense of unease with arousal, or else you might one day find yourself trapped in a cuckold dynamic you no longer find arousing but are emotionally drained by.

Lastly, you mention discussing these issues with your therapist. Although I think that’s a good idea in principle, make sure you are seeing a sex-positive, polyamory-friendly therapist before broaching such subjects as opening up your relationship. Many therapists are too closely attached to monogamous relationship scripts to acknowledge that anything other than your mate’s desire to have sex is what is at fault here. If you need help locating a sex-positive mental health professional, you can consult the professional directory maintained by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), available here.

Hopefully that advice helps you get through this emotional period in your relationship and your relationship emerges better than ever on the other side! If you have any additional questions or comments, please make use of the comments section below or get in touch with us via our contact page.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.