Book Review: Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships

opening up
Image Description: Opening Up cover features an orange to cream background with two hands holding onto each other across the front. The book is set on a background of black chipped-painted wood.

Contrary to popular belief, I did not spring from the earth as a fully-formed romantic and sexual non-monogamist. Flash back to 2011. Your friendly Unlaced Librarian is newly married, closeted kinky, and has not yet typed a single word of any of the smutty stories she had written in her head. I know, this doesn’t sound like a very nice story, but it gets better.

When my husband and I started talking about having an open relationship, we didn’t know any other person who had an ethically non-monogamous relationship—or at least, if they did, they were not open about it.

My husband and I had talked for hours, weeks—maybe even years at that point—about the world and our place in it. We talked about books we had read, stuff we saw on the internet, and our own experiences to untangle our philosophies on life. Inevitably, that life philosophy included love, sex, and relationships. I think we were negotiating an open relationship before we realized that’s what we were doing.

As the concept solidified, I was excited and curious, but also wobbly and dizzy and kind of confused. I knew there were things I believed in. I knew there were things I thought were right and fair. I knew I was having new and strange feelings. I knew why I was having some feelings, but for others I was completely left out to sea. I had heard the terms “compersion” and “polyfidelity” in various places through the years. But as I tore apart my old psychology textbooks and the few relationship books at the library, I was given scant paragraphs here or there and left pretty much in the same place. Many blogs and websites about polyamory helped, but these myriad of voices were all in different stages of life. Conversations with my husband were also helpful, but we were too at different stages in our “open” philosophy then as well. Even though I did figure things out, it wasn’t long before I knew I needed a more organized and personal way of working through some of the emotions and questions I was having.

Enter this book. “Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships” by Tristan Taormino.

This book was published in 2008 by Cleis Press. I loved this book when I first read it and I still love it today.

The book begins with pointing out the expectations monogamy places on a relationship and why breaking those expectations isn’t necessarily bad. At the time, I was having issues because I grew up being taught the highest value in relationships is monogamy. At the time, I was more afraid of breaking the idea of monogamy than having a good relationship. “Opening Up” helped strengthen my philosophies of what it means to have a fulfilling relationship, open or monogamous, and gave me elements to focus on that were stronger and more important than social expectations.

The book explains many different types and forms of open relationships. I didn’t realize there were so many ways to do open relationships. It also pointed out that individuals and couples may bounce from type to type. I found a great relief in being able to explore the different possibilities.

I really liked that the book includes interviews and quotes from people living in the type of open relationship the chapter covers. Readers get to hear firsthand the struggles and rewards of the relationship, how it began, and how it works out. It was great to see examples in the text, but the quotes really gave an added depth. Most of the text I highlighted were these quotes from people because they rang true to what I was feeling.

This book isn’t just a good “open relationship” book—this is a good relationship book, full stop. This book was the first time I had read about setting boundaries in relationships and about handling jealousy. Thus this book did a lot to help my monogamous relationship before we branched out to non-monogamy.

The contents in this book could help monogamous couples get along with other people better or explore other sexual avenues (like pornography or BDSM play) that they might not have wanted to explore in their relationship before.

There are chapters in the book that discuss children and family life, laws pertaining to medical issues and owning property, and STD’s. I personally haven’t gone to the lengths of having children or living with more than one partner, but these are very important issues and it’s good to know I’ll have a starting reference if any of these things arise.

There is also a resources guide at the end that is very thorough. Of course, this book was published in 2008 so it could use a little bit of an update, but it is definitely still a good place to begin.

Finally, I think this cover is great as well. At the time I read this book, I liked that I could take it with me to read and, unless someone got really close, no one would know it was about open relationships.

Overall I highly recommend this book. Though the book gives advice and points out alternative ways about thinking of relationships, you are ultimately left to make your own conclusions.

I have been in a happy, fulfilling open relationship since 2012. And this book played a role in helping me get here. Of course, you’ll keep growing long after you’ve read the book. I certainly have. But at the time it was an excellent place to begin, and I hope you might be helped by this book as well.

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