At the start of her memoir, Open, author Rachel Krantz has never been in an open relationship. Then, she falls for a captivating older man who urges her to try nonmonogamy, and she agrees—experimenting with sex parties, BDSM, group sex, and sugar dating along the way. She sat down with FUN FACTORY to talk about cheating, reproductive rights, and the pleasure and honesty afforded by nonmonogamy.
(Oh, and we have great news for anyone who keeps a book on their nightstand along with all their toys—Open is our first monthly #FFBookClub pick! Check back on our blog for a new book rec every month.)
FUN FACTORY: How common is nonmonogamy?
Rachel Krantz: Well, we know that roughly 22% of people in the United States have engaged in consensual nonmonogamy at some point. But we also know that cheating is as high as ever, so that's a form of non-consensual nonmonogamy, right? In 2013, women were 40% more likely to cheat than in 1990, and now young women in their early to mid-20s are cheating at a higher rate than men the same age.
FF: Do you have a hunch as to why that may be?
RK: One reason could be easier opportunity or more temptation. I also think that women are catching up because they have more financial independence than ever before, a higher level of education, and control over their reproduction, although of course, abortion laws are trying to change that. Women might be examining, “Is this really what I want?” and “Maybe I don't have to get married and have children or any of these other things I've been told.” I think they're experimenting but maybe not knowing how to, in terms of nonmonogamy, and so cheating happens.
I also think a lot of what we call “dating” is nonmonogamy! People on dating apps might have a couple people in the mix, but they're kind of seeing, will one turn exclusive or not? And maybe the other partners know, and maybe they don't.
FF: How do you discuss nonmonogamy with a partner or potential partner?
RK: Obviously that can be a scary conversation, but a lot of guidebooks will have good, specific tips on how to have that conversation. One I recommend is Design Your Relationship, which has different ways to approach that conversation. The Smart Girl's Guide to Polyamory is another good one. Love in Abundance is a good one if you're opening up an existing relationship.
If it's an existing serious relationship, preface the conversation with, “I want to have a conversation. It might be triggering in certain ways, but I think it's for the health of our relationship, even if we don't want to do nonmonogamy, so we consciously make a choice toward monogamy, and it's not just the standard default.” Reaffirm your commitment in that conversation, and that you're not about to impose something that's gonna like, upend their whole world. Maybe your needs or desires are more overlapping than you think.
FF: It seems like an open relationship might help a person try new sexual practices. What is it like to try so many new things so rapidly?
RK: It was overwhelming and fun. I'm really glad I did it when I did it, because now I might be too germaphobic. Once we did get scabies, and that was only from going to maybe five sex parties total. That did temper me a little bit. But I think, other than that end of things, it was really fun and eye-opening, kind of an anthropological experience. I was like, "Oh, whoa, that's what it's like when other people have sex.”
I felt very connected to the fact that we're animals, and there's a lot of suffering that happens when we deny that. That's not to say that we should go with every animal urge, because of course there's a lot of destructive ones too. It was very liberating to be around other people who weren't ashamed to be naked, and weren't ashamed of sex, and were just open in that way.
FF: There’s a stereotype that polyamorous cis men are manipulative, and coercing their girlfriends into more sex. Where does that stereotype come from?
RK: I mean, I think it comes from it being true sometimes, the same way that there are men who use monogamy as a way to further control women in abusive situations. You know, like, "Why were you talking to him?” And then they go off on them.
Unfortunately, you're going to have people who are going to abuse power using different structures, no matter what. And often with men, because they've had more power and often do still wield more power in relationships with women, that's gonna happen more often. Women are more likely to think they have to change to protect the relationship or to maintain it.
It can be that sometimes that stereotype is true, and it can also be true that sometimes it's not true at all, and that women stand to gain the most from being in a different kind of model, because we're the ones who seem to be particularly affected by lack of novelty. We're often not having our needs met when we're in relationships with just one man, and so this is an avenue to potentially say, “No, I want more, and I deserve to have that.” As with many things in the book, both things can be true at the same time.
FF: In the book, your therapist tells you that you don't have to be polyamorous to have freedom in a relationship. In your opinion, what are some of the freedoms possible within monogamy?
RK: Well, one thing I've been thinking about recently—apparently in Europe this is on the rise—is de-cohabitating without de-escalating. Obviously for economic reasons, or for people raising children, living together makes a lot of sense, but I think a lot of people are realizing that maybe it's not the healthiest thing for a relationship.
An interesting study of over 11,000 British people found that women who were in relationships over a year old were less interested in sex, and that effect was much worse if they lived with a partner. After 90 months, they saw a huge drop-off in desire, whereas men actually held relatively steady after that point. But the women who didn't live with a partner seemed to avoid as steep of a drop-off. Desire needs air and time and space to rise properly.
My boyfriend and me do a thing we started over the pandemic called “Day of Silence.” It’s like a relationship rest day, where the expectation is that we're each going to do our own thing. We can't talk to each other, and we're not mad at each other. In fact, we get the chance to miss each other, and that's been a very healthy practice I really recommend people try.
Rachel Krantz is a journalist and one of the founding editors of Bustle, where she served as senior features editor for three years. Her work has been featured on NPR, The Guardian, Vox, Vice, and many other outlets. She’s the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Radio Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Peabody Award for her work as an investigative reporter with YR Media. Open, which is available now, is her first book.All ideas included are for educational and entertainment value, and do not constitute medical advice.