Opening Up

By Kendra Holliday | August 15, 2013

This is a guest review from Erica, a recent graduate of Psychology. Also, we’re offering a giveaway of this book to one person in the U.S., so if you’d like to enter, please leave a comment on this post and we’ll choose one winner at random!

Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino

Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, by Tristan Taormino

“It’s no secret that traditional monogamous marriage in America is in serious trouble– and has been for quite a while. Marriage rates have declined, divorce rates have increased, and infidelity is epidemic. The number of articles, books, talk shows, and therapy sessions devoted to “bringing back the spark” in a couple’s relationship is staggering.

While some resort to cheating, serial monogamy, or “starter marriages,” a growing number of people have opted to create satisfying, lasting partnerships another way—by opening up their relationships. Unlike monogamy, there are no scripts or models for these alternative relationships, so people in them can struggle without guidance, advice, or role models.”

Tristan Taormino, award winning author, columnist, editor, and sex educator, delivers a rather thorough and insightful inside view of the workings of non-monogamous relationships in her book Opening Up.

A straightforward thought provoking guide for those considering non-monogamy, those struggling to upkeep a non-monogamous relationship, or those simply curious folk – Opening Up covers a wide range of obstacles and pleasantries to prepare for should you dare to step outside the box of “normality”.

Step by step, Taormino lays out for us the building blocks vital to constructing a healthy relationship no matter the style you choose – even if that ends up being monogamy.  Without pushing an agenda or claiming a particular relationship style superior, Taormino represents well the many different existing relationship styles so that readers can come to decide on what’s best for us.

I will admit that I was slightly disappointed by the simplicity of the information provided. Having been in an open relationship for only one year now, I had already thought through and considered most of what Taormino recommended for poly couples to ponder. And while I could firsthand relate and confirm that her suggestions were valid due to my own personal experiences with them, it did make the read slightly duller than I had originally hoped.

I would therefore, primarily suggest this book to open minded individuals who aren’t poly but are interested in learning more about different ways of being intimate, secondly to individuals who are considering a non-monogamous relationship but haven’t yet been in one, and lastly to individuals who have struggled with being in non-monogamous relationships but still don’t think monogamy is for them.

Those of you who have happily and successfully been living non-monogamous lifestyles for a while now are likely to find this less helpful. However, I will qualify that by saying there is likely at least some aspect in the text that you haven’t considered already. As mentioned previously, Taormino is very thorough.

The most enriching part of this book for me, that I think anyone would enjoy regardless of how much or little they know about polyamory was the plentitude of case studies, and quotes from couples who were interviewed by Taormino during her research for this book. She ends every chapter with a detailed case study of a couple as it relates to the theme of that particular chapter and scatters exemplary quotes throughout the text. Hearing from a variety of different individuals about their personal experiences with poly was both enjoyable and enlightening.

As a whole, I flew through Opening Up with plenty of underlying and thoughtful pauses. I’d certainly recommend it as a good starting point for exploring individuals and as a good relationship guide for those of you seeking good council for your various relationship styles.

Comments

Kendra Holliday 2013-08-15 06:07:19

I read this book when it first came out and was impressed. It became my next go-to book recommendation after “The Ethical Slut”. I actually learned about some relationship styles I hadn’t thought about, and also learned key poly terms such as “compersion.”

I really appreciated hearing from real life people about what has and hasn’t worked for them. It offers courage, inspiration, and a human touch.

It is a great intro primer to open relationships. It’s great to read it with you partner(s) and discuss!

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Keith M 2013-08-15 07:36:03

My wife and I have been discussing opening our relationship to explore some sexual fantasies of ours. Ill be sure to check out this book and use it as a learning tool.

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polyguy 2013-08-15 07:38:11

I read this when we first started trying poly, and found it helpful. I think it is better than the Ethical Slut.

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Jen Sadler 2013-08-15 07:40:43

This sound like exactly what I need. My husband and I have considered having an open relationship for a while now but there are some hurdles we just can’t seem to get over. Whether I win the giveaway or not, I see that this book will soon make it to my home!

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Lilly Allison 2013-08-15 07:49:26

My wife and I have been married for around 22 years. We opened our marriage up within the first 5 years and our relationship has been amazing ever since. I mean, it was pretty amazing to begin with. We didn’t open it up because we were having any relationship or sexual issues. We just decided that we wanted to and it has been a fantastically positive decision. Have there been bumps along the road? Absolutely, but there would have been bumps no matter how we had chosen to live our lives. So, I am a strong promoter of living a poly lifestyle for those that desire such.

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Nena 2013-08-15 07:51:13

Ooh! We’re supposed to read this in my poly book club. I sure could use a copy.:)

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Mon-Mon 2013-08-15 08:07:47

I love this book more than Ethical Slut! Especially since my copy was signed by Tristan Taormino. 🙂

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ST 2013-08-15 09:37:58

The thing I love about Tristan Taormino is that she makes excellent guide books. She takes things that are really complex and breaks them down into basic elements that are easy for people to understand even if they’ve never heard of it before. I know I could take Opening Up and give it to a friend who has never even heard of ethical non-monogamy and they’d leave with a foundation of knowledge about how it could work. I read it too late to be *especially* helpful when I was opening my own relationship, but I still found it to be an important refresher, something that is filled with helpful reminders.

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Dave 2013-08-15 11:39:24

Sounds like an interesting read for someone who has never been in a poly relationship.

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himself 2013-08-15 12:01:49

Sounds like a good read. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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Martha 2013-08-15 12:25:49

Sounds like a fascinating book. I’ll definitely put it on my to-be-read list.

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Nena 2013-08-15 12:43:34

O good, I think I need to read this.

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Larry F 2013-08-15 13:17:48

my girlfriend and future wife and myselfhave been delving into the BDSM community and have been looking at the possibility of an open relationship so this might be just the book we are after

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Joe D. 2013-08-15 22:59:56

I’m in the middle of reading it, and it’s given me lots to think about. I’ve given a copy to my wife to read. Several months ago we opened up our relationship, but one-sidedly. She has no interest in other partners. While the book touches on poly/non-poly couples, I wish there had been more on that. I’ve run into quite a few situations like this, so it doesn’t seem to be an uncommon arrangement.

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D. Lee 2013-08-16 07:53:22

Awesome

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Michelle 2013-08-16 09:58:27

We have recently started opening marriage after 23 years of monogamy. This sounds like a helpful read.

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Dan 2013-08-16 14:14:44

With 150 reviews on Amazon, I was surprised when 171 folks found my Amazon review here not only helpful, but more popular than any other review I’ve written on theology, church history, sex, love and God. Here it is. Loved this book. I tell people about it often. And, are you ready for this? Taormino here actually helped me lose the jealousy against my wife’s cats, chiropractor and massage therapist. Honest. I had to admit, sometimes they all seemed to get to touch her more than I did. True or not, this book helped man up and stop being possessive. yes, helped my old school church-styled marriage.

http://www.amazon.com/Opening-Up-Creating-Sustaining-Relationships/dp/157344295X

I gave it 4 stars. Should have been more honest and given it Five.
……….

I bought this book after running into several folks over a ten year period that were into palyamory–having more than one lover at a time.

To be honest, I was half way between fear on this and the weariness of judging my two or three friends who were oriented this way–multiple lovers. I felt their honesty and candor and approach to sexual integrity was scoring far better (not to mention more often!) than many of my church friends, some of whom were defending to the death long dead marriages; lifeless, dry, sexless “relationships”.

With Taormino’s interviews of 100 plus folks in alternative relationships, a few things stood out for me from my perspective as a traditional type married and sometimes churchy guy. All of us could learn a good deal from Tristan’s book on the matter of communication and honesty. I’ve learned from this book what a joy it is, for example, to have permission from a spouse to notice hot ladies on the street or market. And to have talked out before her where the jealousy thing begins and ends and to simply be able to feel free as a man to appreciate the life force around me. Yes, feel good. Relationship with self. Yes, come out erotically with my thoughts but with the blessing from monogamous spouse. Communication and honesty! Saying out loud who you are and what you want. That’s what this book was about for me.

Opening Up will open up a few closed minds. This doesn’t have to mean that if you are into traditional marriage that you have to dial down your commitment to monogamy or start groping ladies in elevators. Contrarily, it is an invitation to appreciate how people around us are different and how others approach communication and truth telling, approach honesty with those whom they care deeply.

Another thing that stood out for me with this book is how incredibly mature a couple or an established threesome has to be to have a polyamory-styled relationship that works or seems to work. If anything, the book gave me new faith in why a jealous God just might have designed a more vanilla styled monogamy (dare I say “dumbed down”?) for the rest of us as a matter of course. Let’s face it. Most of us just simply are not grown up enough to do this multiple lover thing with the integrity, honesty and full out communication needed for it to work. If it indeed can work over the long haul. But then we high horse church folk must be reminded: just how many of our marriages work or are even long haul these days?

Again, to be honest, Taormino’s research and writing is just a fun, voyeuristic read. Like people watching downtown, it’s always a kick to see how other folks live. And how sweet to learn of the post WWII “flyboys” that invented palyamory in this country, men who would take on a second woman, a widow, in order to fulfill a dying wish of a comrade in war…that a friend, a war buddy, take care of the woman he loved and must now leave in death.

Couples should read this together as it is sure to fuel many an interesting conversation between traditional spouses! And it will, as I have said, go a long way towards bringing insights into the monogamy path–like how to get over the thoughts and behaviors around “owning” someone; and how to be better at living in the abandonment and falling part of love. Indeed, how does one let oneself be in love in the moment, holding a beloved’s heart gently in an open hand rather than tightly in a closed and married fist? Interesting question.

Hey, and this, too: we are getting older. And think about it. Is death not the other lover (eros and thanatos, ever the pair) who will edge in one day and get his or her way soon enough between the monogamous two of you? Indeed.

So maybe all mortal and traditional marriages are threesomes. Foursomes I suppose, if God is watching and participating, or invited to. Hey, open up!

Yes, traditional folk in happy relationships could gain from reading Tristan Taormino’s scary work. But then lovers who care for things to stay hot edgy must always be brave I think. For one, I’m a romantic and a one woman kind of man. But I loved this book.

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Tasha 2013-08-16 17:57:38

Ooh, we’d love a copy! My partner and I have been slugging along in our open relationship the past several months (it’s been hard to convert from three years of monogamy, but we’re determined!), and a straightforward and basic guide might be just the thing we need. :]

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polynewb 2013-08-16 21:46:01

I’ve been dying to read this as I’ve heard it’s a must read for newbs such as myself!

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    Dan 2013-08-17 12:16:10

    read the Ethical Slut, too. The title sent me running for years, but very basic high road stuff.
    ….
    my way too long review here at Amazon:

    One more crazy titled book…was surprised I loved it., March 14, 2012
    By Dan

    This review is from: The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures (Paperback)
    Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, review by Dan

    The Slut word in the title scared me off for years. But I got weary reading about this book and decided to get bold and buy it. Good move. Especial since one of the authors had come out, using her real name in the second edition. But why me and this book? For starters, as a retired priest I’m pretty much a traditionalist and yet probably at the same time in some denial about being an Eros positive male slut wannabe. And, not unlike the 2% milk I drink, on a good day I’m only about 2% kinkster. Poly? Hardly. So, again, why am I reading this book; and a lot of people like me?

    Because–God forgive me if I’m wrong–I’m starting to think that the Divine is a bit slutty in a way. The Divine into the slut thing? Really? Well, think about it. We all want more love and that’s what we mean by slut–someone whose having more, getting more ecstatic connections than you, right? We’re just not sure what “more” means.

    Like a lot of folks who’d never be seen in an airport with this title in hand, I’m old fashioned. I never wanted more than one woman I don’t think. But then reality kicks in. I get honest and…well, a little more ethical. I’m in my early 60s and on my third marriage. Ouch. So why did I pick up this book and, for heaven’s sake? And love it? This is not what they taught me in seminary! Maybe not. But I’m starting to get honest and come out about being an ethical slut myself.

    For one thing I’ve come out this last decade with my eroticism in general, thanks to writers like Susie Bright. To be honest, sexually speaking, I’m one of those “pretty much you want to nail them all” guys like Billy Crystal’s character in When Harry Met Sally. Yes, I want all the women. Any guy who says different I say is most likely a liar. And by Eastman and Hardy standards, not ethical.

    Yes, I was born with this curse that says I want love to go with; to go with all my man/woman connections. And I even want to grow old with one woman, which makes me a 99% monogamy man. Well, it’s all madness, isn’t it? On this I’d toss my hat in with Rachel Resnick and her memoir, Love Junkie. I am that love junkie man I guess. So I’ll always want to be having more sex than you are having. Which makes me a slut. And I want to be honest with myself in all things. Which makes me want to be honest sexually, too. Now wasn’t it Heraclitus in the 5th century BC who said that the senses are false witnesses to an impure soul? Time for some soul honesty. And why not? I think all of us want to be ethical. And we’d have to admit most of us like at least part of the joy of being a little more slutty.

    Again, the Divine is slutty sometimes, no? This thought occurred to me the other day reading this book. Especially if we think about opening up our sex life to God and to a beloved, a significant and intimate other. Heck, to all the heavenly host, right? Then are we not all then into a group sex thing in some fashion? All love is group love maybe then? At least a three way. Especially if God/Goddess are invited to look. And if our sex is ethical why wouldn’t we want all the gods to look and to applaud? Maybe even for all of us to open our eyes together?

    So I bought the book, knowing I had a few things to learn. This title gave me practical tips on communicating what I need and want sexually and romantically. It’s all about being honest. Good sex for me is always about how we can bring along the virtues as we get naked and honest, too. That’s what I got from this book, albeit in an odd way.

    Self honesty? I confessed recently to my wife being jealous of her cats. Her chiropractor; her massage therapist. They all those who get to touch her. Sometimes even when I’m not invited to. I’ve a few things to learn I guess. This book helped me admit I still am sort of the jealous type, which galls me. I’m working on it.

    As to the craziness of slutty love–and this book does get a bit crazy–I have been reading this last decade many spiritual writers, Christian monastics and mystics and early century theologians who spoke oddly enough and openly about the wild madness of erotic love–Eros Maniakos–maniacal sold out give up everything, edgy to die for love for God. Needless to say, a growing love for the poetry and prose of all risk taking with eroticism (Love Poems From God, Daniel Ladinsky) have kept me reading more. From seventh century forward, St. Maximus the Confessor of Constantinople (Turkey, Istanbul); to Elder Porphyrios of modern times in (Athens, Greece), or St. Symeon the New Theologian in the 10th century and his Divine Eros.

    Holy men and women of God speak of edgy eros, of all out desire for the Divine. Philip Serrard seems to in his Christianity and Eros (1976). So I guess that makes all these writers slutty, too. They want to have more than you’re having.

    I’m thinking now of Bernini’s statue of St. Teresa of Avila in the West (loved her Interior Castle). The image of that sculpture in Rome is etched in my mind here. There she is fainting in orgasmic bliss, in 3D, in church no less. In the throes of erotic release. In church. Her heart is being pierced by the arrow of God and it is a sex thing. Unless you are a dull person you can’t see this and take it in. (Does the Pope know about this? Is he still permitting this sort of sex in church? My, my.)

    Professor Kyriacos Markides of Maine speaks often of Eros Maniakos in his Mountain of Silence (2002) and also in his other works: Gifts of the Desert and Inner River. Any love story, it seems to me, is a story of love madness. So this was my pull to actually read about all out ethical eroticism detailed here by these two mad for love poly authors. Who proudly call themselves both slutty, severely erotic, and ethical. OK, why not. I’m a philosopher and a theologian. We talk about ethics a lot. We best get honest about the eros part, too.

    As to the confluence of spirituality and love and sexuality, Easton and Hardy take a serious look at this with their other work, Radical Ecstasy (2004) which is all about bliss, the divine, Tantra, falling, and the losing control thing. Breath, chakras, surrender. So much for the charge that these authors are only and always about some slutty sex equals pleasure only doctrine. God gets in there with them. Also, I see these days more writing about BDSM and “leather spirituality” and the transcendence of dark eros. Again: my, my.

    I’m not the only one in recently decades to grown weary with the dishonesty of the traditional church–Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox–around sexuality. When single and divorced ten years back I asked an Orthodox monk and speaker at a Greek Orthodox two day workshop on Sex, Love and Marriage what leaders in the church had in as advice for the 45 million mid-life folk in this country who are now dating online. To this day I love his crisp reply to me and the 100+ Sex, Love and Marriage workshop inquirers in attendance. Said the then monk now church hierarch: “Advice from the church? To be honest, we don’t have a clue.”

    So, I got over the title of this book, over my false purity about the slut word. I read it. So I could get a clue. I spent dozens of hours thinking about the stuff Easton and Hardy brought up here. They became during my reading here my priest/priestess love coaches.

    I had to get ethically honest and I invite you to as well. If I as Mr. Church guy am so into the romantic love/marriage/family monogamy path, why am I on my third marriage? If I’m so one-man-for-one-woman forever…why am I still attracted to other women? Why was the divorce so costly and painful? Worth it but costly? Twice. And remarried at age 58, why do I get jealous of my wife’s cats and friends sometimes. Each who also want to love her? And why does Dark Eros (Thomas Moore, 1998) and even some of BDSM even still fascinate me? And why have I read dozens of books on Eros Maniakos and the mystics and monks and nuns who have retained their commitment to mad, go for broke love for God? Guess it all makes me rather down in the trenches slutty some. I’m getting to like the term, actually.

    Again, I picked up this Easton-Hardy title for the same reason I picked up Tristan Taormino ‘s Opening Up (BTW, of my 130 Amazon reviews, it’s the most popular to date) because two couple friends of mine and one single friend are in one of those “complicated” (Baldwin’s character to Streep’s character: “It’s complicated!”) relationships that are poly type. Poly. Even the word intrigues and confounds. My partner and I have spent hours discussing these creative relationships our friends have. Why parts of what they have seem to work? And why do some poly type relationships seem so alive while some old school type Married Folk seem to endure only in their deadness?

    I recently read and loved Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan, made me rethink monogamy. Like Ethical Slut, Sex At Dawn makes me rethink how church people preach monogamy for life but aren’t much better at it statistically than the unchurched. And, besides, when I set out a decade back on my own path dating in midlife, trying to be honest, I knew I’d likely be “kissing a few frogs” mixing it up naked with a few ladies on my self discovery path. I wanted to be ethical.

    So, in an odd way, dating is always going to be a serial monogamy/poly/ethical homework assignment. Especially if you invite God in, seems to me. Especially if you are trying to be honest and perhaps date several women at a time; which I was only able to do for three months. Which makes me not good poly material I guess.

    My biggest take away from the book? Solid tips on jealousy, honesty, agreements, communication, saying what you want. Meaning what you say. How to fight fair. Flirting honestly with other women while in a committed relationship. Flirting, yes. Something I’ve always done and don’t intend to stop is flirting with the Safeway cashier. Thanks to the call if this book I’m increasingly OK with that.

    A confession here. After reading this book I’m still pretty much with author Chloe Caldwell. (See her article: Legs Get Led Astray, 2012) As she said, it takes special, almost otherworldly people to do the poly thing. Caldwell shows herself in her essay on Why I Am No Longer An Ethical Slut found at the Faster Times zine. “As much as I love the idea, as much as I think it is a wonderful book, I don’t think being an Ethical Slut is possible. At least not for him. At least not for me.”

    One of her friends commented on Caldwell’s mad love relationship: “Chloe, you guys spent three years being shady for dopamine.” Caldwell agreed. Yes, being shady is not being ethical.

    “It’s never been better said. We were cheaters, liars; we were addicted to a feeling we’d created. There was not one ethical thing about it.”

    So, to wrap up this tome of a review, even though I was a 98% voyeur type while reading all this about sluthood from Easton and Hardy, I learned a lot. I learned even more than simply tolerance for these poly writers. I learned some key relationship let’s-talk-about-it-in-the-daylight skills. Actually, I liked the Eastman/Hardy smaller title When Someone You Love Is Kinky (2000). Ethical Slut is a far more exhaustive work.

    I’d recommend this book for died in the wool traditionalists like the unbrave one star reviewer here at Amazon who threw the book away half read. Monogamy folk and poly timers alike could up their communication skills on jealousy and fighting fair paying attention to what’s contained here. And and get something in just contemplating the whole business of what it means to want more. A thoughtful book.

    Reply

Angelia 2013-08-18 23:45:32

I’ve been looking for a good sex educator to help with all kinds of issues and curiosities that I have. I’ll be researching Tristan to see her other works.

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ROBERT SCHUTTE 2013-08-21 05:03:38

well me and my wife,have been in and open life style for three years and like to know more, i think it will be a great read

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