Exploring Kink and Ethical Nonmonogamy in Marriage

Marriages, or other long term committed relationship models, are evolving within kinky sex and ethical non-monogamy (ENM) frameworks. But how do couples navigate this terrain while maintaining a stable and fulfilling relationship?‍ Read this article to learn more!

Michelle Anderson Headshot Cropped
Michelle Anderson
LCSW-C, CCTP-I

Independent Therapist

Kink and Ethical Non-Monogamy in Marriages

Kink in relationships isn’t as taboo as it once was. Research suggests that approximately 10% of the population have engaged in kink with 1-2% reporting that kinky sex is their primary identifier.  Of those who engage or have engaged in kinky sex, the average demographic is white, educated and professional.  BDSM or power exchange sex play is the most practiced kink and manifests in a number of scenarios (top vs bottom, dominant versus submission, master and slave, caregivers and pet play).  

Kinky practices do not necessarily include fetishes, which are defined as the necessity of some object during sex to reach orgasm or achieve satisfaction. Approximately 23% of women and 30% of men report having fetishes which have been categorized in over 500 types.  Stefani Goerlich, in her book The Leather Couch categorized the most commonly Google searched fetishes which ranged from lingerie, sex toys, anal play and bukake as the most searched terms to the least searched forms of play such as ball crushing and scrotal inflation.  

Open relationships, or ethical nonmonogamy (ENM), is the growing practice of being romantically involved with multiple people who are all aware of and agree to this relationship structure.  Approximately 12 to 17% of persons responding to one recent study reported being in open relationships.  Ethical nonmonogamy is not necessarily kinky, but the two often overlap.  

Marriages, or other long term committed relationship models, are evolving within this framework to include less rigid gender roles, less traditional and closed sexual roles, and for many couples, exploring kink or ENM can add depth and excitement to their core relationship. But how do couples navigate this terrain while maintaining a stable and fulfilling relationship?

Exploring Kink in Marriage

Communication is Key: The foundation of a healthy kink exploration within a marriage is open, honest communication. This involves discussing desires, boundaries, and expectations in a safe and non-judgmental space.  Dedicating time to sharing fantasies, what arouses and inhibits them, as well as their sexual histories and experiences can lay the groundwork for better communication in general before expanding this dialogue to include where they want to take their sexual adventures.

Respecting Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries is essential. Couples should actively listen to each other and respect each other’s limits, ensuring that both partners feel safe and comfortable.

Consent and Trust: The core principles of any successful kink exploration are consent, safety and trust.  Coercion, unless part of the sex play, should not be part of a couple’s agreement to engage.  Consent to all activities, the right to say no, to be flexible and change one’s mind at any moment, is a must, and safety should be preeminent.  Some sex play has risks and the players should be transparent and informed of those risks before consent can be given fully.  These considerations will help build trust, but general trust in one’s partner is necessary for these expansive experiences to be as fun and freeing as they are meant to be.

Integrating Kink into a Marriage

Start Small: Experiment with mild forms of kink. This could involve incorporating new elements into your intimate life, such as trying new positions, using blindfolds, or incorporating light bondage.  If you and your partner have been transparent in sharing your turn ons and fantasies, you should know where to begin and where you want to end up.

Education and Exploration: Read, watch, and explore together. There are numerous resources, from books to workshops, that can guide couples into understanding and safely exploring their desires.  As mentioned above, The Leather Couch, is a good reference book for helping to understand the kink community, incorporate the terminology, and explore the “menu” of options.  Sex clubs, such as The Crucible, Shadows, and The Tabu Lifestyle Club, are available in DC and other urban areas where a couple can join like minded people to watch, engage, and get ideas.  Also, numerous online meet ups, www.sexfinder.com and www.swapfinder.com will help you find like minded individuals.

Seek Guidance: Sometimes, it can be beneficial to seek the guidance of a professional, such as a therapist, especially if there are concerns about navigating boundaries or if the exploration causes stress or discomfort.  Some couples need help talking to each other about their sexual needs, especially in longer term relationships where these discussions have never occurred or have been limited.  Communication is critical to navigating these new waters successfully.

Opening a Marriage to Outside Sexual Encounters

Opening a marriage is NEVER a good way to solve problems within the relationship.  If you have sex problems, solve them before you share your issues with other people.  Expanding your relationship in this way is only for the stable couples.

While some couples consider open relationships as a means of exploring kink, their decision may not involve a power exchange or fetish and may simply involve bringing in a third party or others into the marriage for sex with the couple.  However, opening their relationship may allow for solo sexual encounters outside the marriage that do not involve the other.  The nature of the openness is anyway the two involved choose to define it.  Critical to this and the nature of “ethical” nonmonogamy is that the definitions and subsequent agreements must be specific and clear.  Deceit or breaking these rules makes the act a betrayal of trust and constitutes infidelity.

Considerations:

  • Establish Ground Rules: Define what is acceptable and what is not.
  • BE SPECIFIC. This might include rules about communication, safer sex practices, and emotional boundaries.  Do you tell each other about outside sexual encounters or do you prefer being discrete?  Are you allowed sex with friends or people you have other relationships with or must it be with strangers or people your partner doesn’t know?  Are you allowed to text, call, meet up afterwards or must these encounters be one offs and anonymous?  If you have an emotional relationship with the outside sexual partner, how do you keep it from interfering with the core relationship?  Think through the likely scenarios and draft rules accordingly.  Damage to the core relationship is to be avoided at all costs.  Put the rules of engagement in writing.
  • Constant Communication: Regular, honest conversations are crucial. Address any concerns or changes in feelings as they arise.
  • Reassess Regularly: Revisit the arrangement periodically to ensure that both partners are still comfortable and that the relationship remains a priority.

Kink and open relationships can bring couples closer together through shared exploration and increased intimacy. However, these ventures require a deep understanding of boundaries, consent, and trust. While it’s an exciting path for some couples, it might not be suitable for everyone.

In the end, the key to a successful marriage—kink or no kink—is mutual respect, open communication, and a commitment to each other’s well-being and happiness.  The integrity of the relationship must be preserved, and if this is a priority, a couple can open their relationship in a way that a good marriage stays that way.  

Published on February 4, 2024Updated on March 6, 2024