Here’s an awesome question that I actually got a while ago, about sexual desire in an open relationship:
Hi! I’m a 24 year old bi poly [gender]. I have a bit of a pattern of finding ‘new’ people (people I’ve just started to sleep with, or don’t get to see/sleep with very often) much easier to click with sexually than people I’ve been seeing for a while and have spent lots of time with. This is fine with me, except that I’m in a open relationship and whilst I love my partner (who I’ve been with for around 14 months) and find them very attractive, I’m just not as excited about sleeping with them as I am about new partners, or partners I see less frequently than them. I worry that ‘getting comfortable’ with someone has this downside, but I don’t want to avoid the comfort and stability of serious relationships in order to prevent this. Is there anything you can advise?
The person goes on to describe their sexual connection with their primary partner as “adventurous,” and ends with:
I’m worried I’ll come to resent this need to put more effort into sex with him and it’ll color how I see them.
What makes this question so awesome is that it’s such an excellent example of the third, “in-between” desire style, which I call “context sensitive.” Here’s a person who experiences spontaneous, out-of-the-blue desire with their secondary partners and responsive desire with their primary partner. It’s completely normal and exactly the kind of thing that makes the dual control model so useful:
The context for sex with primary versus other partners in an open relationship is obviously totally different. It’s a different person with a different set of expectations, a different set of consequences.
It’s helpful to get really explicit about what contexts turn you on and what contexts hit the brakes. You can literally just make a list of contexts that have resulted in amazing sex and contexts that have resulted in “meh” sex. Once you have identified those contexts, just collaborate with your partner to create the contexts that really work.
I’ve developed some worksheets to help people think through what works for them (or not) as a sexy context, along with what steps they can take to create more of that sexy context in their lives. You can download the PDF here.
Your comment about worrying that you’ll “resent the effort” is actually the only potentially worrying part of your email.
Culturally, we’ve been taught to expect that sexual desire should just COME, spontaneously, without effort, and that if it takes effort it’s not… I don’t know… “real.” That – and I want you to get way deep inside this idea – IS BULLSHIT and a lie.
As a poly person, you’ve already embraced idea that the cultural messages about monogamy aren’t true for you. Now it’s time to welcome the idea that the cultural messages about sexual desire are just as untrue.
So instead of an “Ugh, why is this such hard work” feeling about the process of figuring out the sexy contexts and creating them with your primary, try on an “OooOOOOoooh! I wonder what else we can create!” feeling. Curiosity is EXTREMELY SEXY.
One additional thought: if I had to guess – and it really is just a guess – I’d say you have an an avoidant attachment style, which would make you prone to hit the brakes a little in the context of a commitment and hit the accelerator a little in the context of less commitment. But maybe not, this might just be the context that works for you.