I got the life I wanted when I accepted that I needed a non-monogamous relationship
I’ll never forget my first experience with cheating. After a completely random drunken make-out session in a Mexico nightclub on a work trip, I ordered my boyfriend flowers at the airport the next morning because I was feeling guilty. I was compelled to try and make it up to him. I saw no use in telling him, but I could at least be an extra sweet girlfriend.
I swore I wouldn’t do it again, but on another work trip to Jamaica, several months later, curiosity about hooking up with a woman got the best of me. Soon after, on vacation in Ibiza, my adventurous side came out full throttle, and I caved to the temptation of several men’s advances, all at the expense of that same boyfriend. By then, I’d become an expert at ignoring the guilt and burying it inside of me.
I wish I could say that was all, but it wasn’t. Soon before that relationship began, I’d gotten into orgasmic meditation, a mindfulness practice where a man strokes a woman’s clitoris. It did incredible things for me, like getting me out of my head while receiving pleasure and reawakening both my physical and emotional desire—but my boyfriend didn’t get it. So, while I was in San Francisco without him, I explored the practice with other people. Ultimately, though, I could no longer push the guilt away, and it started to build. I stopped my orgasmic meditation practice when the feeling became too much. I didn’t dare tell my partner; I knew it would hurt him.
I told myself that what my boyfriend didn’t know couldn’t hurt him, but I also didn’t feel right about what I was doing. It felt like I had this whole secret life I was hiding from him and it limited how close I could get to him. I had all of these desires and experiences I couldn’t tell him about, and even if he never found out, it wasn’t fair to him. He never consented to a relationship structure that involved other people, and he’d be devastated if he knew. It felt like I was depriving him of the chance to find a relationship with someone who was faithful to him.
Over those three years, I talked to a few therapists for a variety of reasons, and my infidelity came up several times. One suggested I was cheating to assuage deep-seated insecurities. Another speculated that I was seeking approval from men that I did not get from my father. But the explanation that actually made the most sense was from a sex coach I was seeing.
She said that monogamy doesn’t work for some people and that the behavior isn’t always pathological—the issue is just not being honest with your partner about it.
As I reflected on my sex coach’s assessment, going back through each instance of cheating and asking myself what my motives were, I realized that my desire to explore my sexuality wasn’t a bad thing. Throughout most of my life, I was not only sexually repressed but also disconnected from my body. I had met my partner just as I was beginning to open up, and I wanted to fully experience what was out there and figure out who I was sexually. Through my cheating, I had been trying to find myself.
I was successful to a large extent. I learned to push past body image insecurities, I flirted with people I was attracted to, and I started asking for what I wanted in bed. After digging deep within, I discovered what my preferences were and what my body was capable of. There was a sense of freedom that came with having new partners, especially ones I’d probably never see again. When I came in contact with sexual encounters while traveling, it felt like they invited a different side of myself out.
After almost three years as a serial cheater, it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t an insecure woman with daddy issues. I was someone with a desire for sexual healing, growth, and exploration—and that desire was not unhealthy. It just wasn’t suited to the relationship I was in.
To this day, I haven’t told him about my cheating. It felt irresponsible to put him through that mental turmoil when the mistakes were mine. I didn’t see anything that could be gained from his knowing; if we were going to break up eventually, the least I could do was preserve pleasant memories of our relationship in his mind. And if we weren’t, I could address the topic of non-monogamy by talking to him about the future, not telling stories of the past that would hurt him.
But, ultimately, I realized that even if my boyfriend never found out about my cheating, the cheating pattern was also hurting me. Not only did it cause me pain just to know I was betraying him, it also hurt to be in a relationship where I could never be completely honest about what I needed sexually. I told myself that if another sexual opportunity with someone else came up, I would talk to my partner about it first.
Just a few months after I made that decision, a sexological bodyworker offered to teach me a technique called the “90-minute orgasm,” where he’d use his hands and toys to give me multiple orgasms so close together they felt like one big one. It sounded like an exciting opportunity to learn more about what my body could experience. Since my boyfriend and I were living in different countries at the time, I wrote him an email explaining why I wanted to do it, why it didn’t threaten our relationship in my mind, and how it might even improve our sex life.
To put it mildly, he didn’t go for it. He was angry that I’d even asked. After a long discussion, we concluded that we were not looking for the same kind of relationship and mutually decided to break up. Even though I was heartbroken to part with my partner of three years, a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders: I was free to look for a relationship where I didn’t have to lie.
After our breakup, I got to fully embark on the sexual journey I’d only half started when I was with my ex. I went to sex parties and overcame my fear of approaching potential sexual partners. I had major emotional releases during orgasmic meditation sessions. I not only went to sexological bodyworkers—I trained to be one. I finally began to feel like I could be myself.
I haven’t had a serious relationship since that breakup in June 2019, but I’ve casually dated many people. From the beginning, I told all of them that I had cheated in my last relationship and was determined not to do it again. I wanted to be non-monogamous. It was scary admitting that I have cheated, but everyone was understanding and saw that I genuinely wanted to behave differently. It was such a relief to get those discussions out of the way. The two guys I dated consistently for a few months, each at different points, were on the same page as me; we not only consensually had other partners but even talked about them and supported each other to go after what we wanted.
While I was with my ex, I feared that the prospect of having a regular partner and being able to do whatever I wanted sexually would be too good to be true.
But once I was willing to stop settling and be completely honest about my needs, I found people who were happy to accommodate them.
Now, not only do I get what I want sexually—I get the emotional intimacy of being able to share everything with someone and knowing that we both put each other’s satisfaction above our own feelings of jealousy.
In my next relationship, I envision us being on the same page; we will want each other to be happy, even if that means one or both of us having other partners. The one thing that we will never do is hide our desires or activities from each other. We both deserve a partnership where we can be fully seen, understood, and celebrate—and, for me, that means no secrets.