Considering Open Relationships P3. | Knowing Your Gay Sexbrain Body | iAmClinic Blog

Given our natural neurology, open relationships will mean different things to different people. Our sexbrain––the name for the various mechanisms found within our physical bodies and neuroanatomy that guide self-understanding and intimacy at large––is determined by a variety of factors that ultimately create rushing neural highways for one person and trickling rivers for another. The sexbrain determines the ways in which emotions play a small or big role in love, bonding and sex. It also explains why we all have different ways of experiencing and expressing gender identity, and the manner in which we understand our sexual orientations.

As we know from research our sexbrain is largely determined by an in utero hormone bathing in weeks 6 and 12. After birth, of course, our families, interactions, relationships outside of the home and our interpretation styles will add layers to the ways in which intimacy is allowed or held at bay.

All this to say, because of our sexbrain, we will all have a unique way of seeing emotional intimacy and sex.

The differences between your and your partner’s sexbrain–– the areas of the brain/body that host your sexuality and emotionality (e.g., hippocampus, limbic system and the autonomic nervous system)––may be profound. In other words, sexual intimacy may be heavily tied to love and safety for one of you and thrill and playfulness for the other. Some need emotional connectedness to feel sexual arousal, whereas others need sexual connectedness to have emotional arousal. Many need independence to feel close, while others need closeness to trust independence.

Thus, two people in one relationship may have vastly different approaches to an open relationships because they’re: 1) relying on different signals that initiate safety in 2) a brain/body that defines safety differently than others.

If we consider that sex and emotions are wired differently in all of us––each relying on a different version of safety––it is easy to see why some of us are comfortable with open relationships, while others might see them as unnecessary, possibly even frightening.

As you consider opening your relationship, you should identify the ways in which both you and your partner define safety, sexual intimacy, as well as emotional intimacy. Such clarity will help you see what’s at play underneath the hood of your sexbrain and how it affects what happens under the sheets.

Here is a list of thought prompts to help you and your partner understand why an open relationship can improve or diminish your relational satisfaction.

1. How does sex feel to you? On a spectrum, is it more like a ceremony of bonding, where safety, trust and protection are passed from one to the other or like a fleeting, but meaningful physical act where care and sensuality are shared between two partners?

Again, tt can be dramatically illuminating to understand what role sex does and does not play for you and your partner. It may be that the sexbrain functions differently, rending different meanings, associations, and emotions during sex. As a result, for one partner, sex might be an act of delight and pleasure, while for the other, a ceremony of bonding and union. If this is how sex plays out in your reationship, open relationships will feel triggering for the one who feels sex’s binding power. They may interpret that their partner wants a deep union with others because monogamy hosts a deep sense of belonging and safety. To these partners, open relationships can feel like a random person is moving into their home, their sacred haven.

For someone who experiences sex as an experience of non-bonding pleasure, an open relationship can be a way to share joy, passion and possibly even love without it threatening the primary relationship. They can often implement a healthy boundary system that allows themselves to dip into an experience of passion, without questioning their fidelity to their primary partner.

If the role of sex hasn’t been discussed and clarified, approaching an open relationship can be more bumpy or chaotic than it needs to be. Take time to talk about the role of sex and boundaries—physical and emotional boundaries— and how they can stabilize the relationship even if your relationship remains closed.

I’ve noticed that most challenging emotions that arise as couples consider opening their relationship stem from the underlying and deeply innocent desires to love authentically and find safety. Honor your partner’s experience because it may, in fact, help you make peace with whatever route you take.

2. How will you assess the emotional maturity of any prospective lover?

Often times couples who green light an open relationship find an attractive, like-minded lover. Assuming that a brief disclosure about the open relationship is enough information to keep things healthy, many persons in an open relationship find themselves managing more emotional fires than they expected.

Anytime we create a new relationship we engage an entire human—their history, their current cravings, their wounding, and their current level of emotional ability. Their ability to hold boundaries, self-soothe in difficult moments and a deep internalization of their inherent value will affect your relationship, for better and worse.

Take a moment for due diligence and create a list of non-negotiables with your partner. Strategizing for our co-created, ideal dynamic. Finding the right fit can bring a stabilizing peace of mind that may help both of you feel ready to test the waters of open relationships.

Do open relationships work for everyone? Not always. Should we assume that at a certain level of emotional maturity we’d all be capable and comfortable within an open relationship? Absolutely not. The sexbrain is way too powerful and our neurology is too precise to prescribe them for everyone.

Before you make major assumptions about what is and isn’t possible for you [and your partner], take time to get to know one another’s experience with love and sex. Doing so will be a major guiding force—one that is reliable and trustworthy. And even if you don’t ultimately open your relationship, you will feel closer.

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