Opening Up

by Jeff Booth
Review of Opening Up by Tristan Taormino

If you are interested in alternatives to monogamy, or in understanding why monogamy is so much more challenging for people than they are led to believe, this is a book you absolutely must have. For a long time we recommended a very good book, The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Reationships, and Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. It has been the Bible for this type of information. Consider Opening Up the New Testament. There is no better book on this topic on the market today.

When our Erotic University virtual campus existed as a real school, every Saturday afternoon we brought in a different expert to teach a class. Tristan Taormino was our very first instructor. She was an excellent teacher then, and she has gotten even better over the years.

There are so many things that I like about Opening Up. It is very inclusive, covering almost every conceivable type of non-monogamous relationship. There are chapters devoted to Partnered Non-Monogamy, Swinging, Polyamory, Solo Polyamory, Polyfidelity, and Monogamous/Non-Monogamous and Mono/Poly Combinations. Each one goes into depth.

My wife and I have been non-monogamous for over 15 years. We have taught classes on the subject and I have written about it. We have a very open relationship, we are swingers, my wife is bisexual and we have shared girlfriends, and we have had separate romantic lovers. We have lived a lot of the things she has written about, so I can tell you that her extensive research and personal life experience helps her get things exactly right.

She understands that there is an amazing diversity in the way people work out their non-monogamy. It seems like everyone has their own individualistic approach. There is no specific right way to do things. In her section on Creating and Sustaining Your Relationships, she explores the challenges that others have encountered and offers solid ideas on how to deal with them. While she draws on her personal experience as someone who has chosen to live a non-monogamous life, she also did 126 questionnaires with follow-up interviews with 80 of the respondents. This allows her to present a wide variety of actual experiences.

She begins the book with a brief history of non-monogamous relationships. Her section on Swinging is good, and covers the literature well, but misses one of the key influences on modern swinging- the Sandstone Community in Topanga Canyon, California, where swinging emerged out its world of anonymous sex into a more social and more intellectual pursuit. This inspired Robert McGinley’s approach with the Lifestyles Organization, which helped turn swinging into a national and commercial venture. It is amusing to me that the first Lifestyles Convention, which was the first swinger’s convention, was held just a few miles from where I was living in Riverside, California. I was just a little too young to attend at the time, though.

The book is about open relationships, and not swinging particularly, and while I do not know for certain, I get the sense that Tristan’s experience with swinging is somewhat limited. When she writes about contemporary swinging, she talks about swing clubs, and she gets it right that many go just for the highly sexually charged environment and don’t play with others at all. Many of the people you see having sex at a swing club are having sex with the person they came with.

She talks about the 1970s concept of recreational swingers and Utopian swingers, and I agree with her that the Utopian swingers were very much like an early version of those who now label themselves as polyamorous. However, I believe that modern swinging often falls somewhere in the middle. People in swinging do develop strong relationships that go well beyond simple friendship, and that many see swinging as much more than just recreational sex. In fact, as the Lifestyles organization has promoted, they see it as a lifestyle.

While she writes about clubs, the deeper world of swinging exists in the world of private parties. At these events, people gather who have known each other for years, and have formed a very close bond. These relationships are quite diverse, but can also be quite deep. Clubs are great for new people and as ways to meet other swingers, but parties provide a unique environment that is quite different from the clubs. You can’t get invited, of course, until you get to know enough swingers.

The author has thought very deeply about the types of information that will be useful for people exploring non-monogamy. She includes legal issues, child rearing, coming out to families, and safer sex. She also includes interviews with many people about their experiences with non-monogamy.

Even if you are monogamous, this book has something of value. We are told that monogamy is normal and should be easy, but as that book explains, that is far from the reality.

People who openly practice non-monogamy with their partner are not unfaithful and they are not cheating on their partner. They honestly confront the reality that monogamy is neither easy nor even desirable for a lot of people. They are not wrecking havoc with their relationships through their lies and deceptions. They find ways to work out their relationships with their partners that are mutually satisfying. Personally, I have found that non-monogamy has deepened my relationship with my wife.

I used to say that this stuff can be tricky, because nobody hands out a handbook on how to do it. With Opening Up, now there is one.