Every gal would like to have her cake and eat it too, but is that really possible within the confines of a committed relationship? Some couples think so and, as a result, appear to live quite happily with each other while still having sex with other people.

While hard-and-fast statistics about open relationships are hard to come by, some experts estimate that up to 4 percent of couples practice polyamory, allowing themselves and their partners to seek sexual experience beyond the common boundaries of marriage. When open relationships work, they're based on trust, understanding and communication. When they don't, it's often because jealousy and resentment creep in.

If you're looking for a little sexual adventure, an open relationship can be a way to have your cake (each other) and other people on the side. But can true love really include sex with other people? Here's how to find out if it might work for you.

Why an Open Relationship?

There are many reasons why people choose open relationships. While many of us have been raised to assume that monogamy is the only way to go, it's hardly news that it hasn't worked for everyone for a very long time.

"After being in a committed relationship for years and having my partner cheat on me, I became afraid of commitment," said a 35-year-old man who has been participating in the world of polyamory for the last 10 years.

"I have this fear of putting all my eggs in one basket and this lifestyle allows me to have open relationships founded on mutual trust and understanding. There is no reason to hide the fact that I’m sleeping with other women. My partner already knows about it."

Unlike what we often call "cheating," polyamory is a type of open relationship that enables people to have more than one intimate relationship at a time with the consent and knowledge of everyone involved.

In a monogamous relationship, the day you commit to one person is the day you put all the good things that come with being single - including the excitement of finding someone new - on the shelf. Of course, you also get to spend time with someone you're crazy about - and you have someone to help with the dishes. An open relationship allows couples to get the best of both worlds, at least in theory. And there are many couples who say it works by taking the pressure off of having sex, and keeping sex new, fresh and exciting, both inside and outside the relationship.

Where to Start

Whether you’ve been in a committed relationship for years or have just started seeing somebody, the topic of being in an open relationship is always difficult to bring up. Many people will not be happy with the idea, so you need to be prepared for your partner to reject it - or even reject you.

If you are having problems in your current relationship and think that being in an open arrangement can help, you should seek the advice of a couple’s counselor. After all, diving into a new lifestyle often isn't the best way to repair a relationship that's already on the rocks. Counseling can help you get honest about whether you're pursuing it for the right reasons.

If you approach the idea of starting an open relationship and your partner is OK with it, both of you need to set boundaries. Is it alright for you to bring your lovers home or should you rent a hotel room? Is it OK to be in multiple relationships at once or do you just want to sleep with different partners? The most important thing is to never hide anything from your partner and always be open and honest about your other relationships and intentions.

If you are single and want to dabble in the world of polyamory, you should talk to people you know who already do it. They can answer all of the questions you you might have and help you decide if this lifestyle is right for you.

Threesomes, Swinging and Other Poly Relationships

While many people involved in polyamory do not participate in threesomes, other types of open relationships think of this sexual taboo as an extra benefit because it allows both partners to experience the thrill of a new relationship together. (Learn more about threesomes in Should my partner and I choose a male or a female to create our first threesome?)

Another kind of open relationship, known as swinging, allows people in a committed relationship to engage in sexual activities with others as a recreational activity. This is often done as a pair, and it can be a way to explore new avenues of shared sexual fulfillment. It also provides sexual variety and adventure, which some monogamous couples find lacking after being together for several years.

Regardless of what kind of polyamory you might practice, it's crucial for couples to be on the same page about what they want and don't want and to be open with each other. And no one should feel pressured to cross personal boundaries or limits, even when they're aiming to try something new. (For more on polyamory, check out When Your Partner Sleeps With Someone Else - And It Makes You Happy)

Would It Work for You?

Deciding if you should be in an open relationship is a very personal decision that requires a lot of self reflection. Be honest with yourself when you ask the following questions:
  • Why am I doing this?
  • How will I benefit from this arrangement?
  • Can I picture my partner dating or sleeping with somebody else without getting upset?
  • Am I avoiding commitment?
  • Am I a jealous person?
  • Am I doing this to add something to the relationship or for my own selfish reasons?

It is wise to enroll in a couple's of therapy session to find the source of your desire to be in an open relationship. Many people do it simply for a new experience or thrill, but others do it to avoid personal demons such as a fear of intimacy. In such cases, an open relationship can drive couples apart.

Monogamish?

If you're involved in an open relationship for the right reasons, there can be numerous benefits to it. You can expand your sexual horizons, get to know more people, learn how to trust yourself and your partner in an entirely new way, and learn how to communicate better as a couple.

Think of it this way: When you look at the trajectory of your life, do you see your current partner at the end it? If so, why not have some fun with other people along the way? (Looking for other ways to add spice to your love life? See The Case for a Threesome (and Not the Kind You Think).