real life

Sex confession: For Jenny, an open marriage was the key to living happily ever after.


This post was first published on

I was 17 when my sexual education began.

“You are responsible for your own orgasm,” my boyfriend told me. He was the guy I lost my virginity to, the guy I had my first orgasm with, and the guy whose words would one day become my mantra: I am responsible for my own orgasm. I believe that literally and figuratively.

In bed, I play an active role in getting what I want. But I also take charge of getting what I want throughout my sexual life. That’s why, along with a husband I adore, I have lovers.

My husband and I have an open marriage. I know it may sound decadent, or like a throwback to the “free love” of the ’60s. But really, for all the hype, “open marriage” is just one of many ways to negotiate love and sex and marriage. We haven’t been doing it that long, but it now seems so obvious. Like, “Why on earth didn’t we think of this before?”

I have always liked sex. I mean really, really liked sex. I have been accused, in fact, of “thinking like a man.” That is, of seeing sex as something wholly separate from love. When my husband and I first started dating, it was obvious even then that our drives were quite different. As much as he enjoyed sex, he didn’t need or want it as often as I did. But I fell so madly in love with him, I figured it didn’t matter.

I was terribly wrong.

Three years into our marriage, I began to feel itchy. So I had an affair. She was beautiful, an artist I met through a mutual friend. I deliberately chose to have an affair with a woman, rationalising that it wasn’t as bad as sleeping with another man. (Simply by virtue of his gender, my husband never could be for me what she could be.)


She wasn’t the first woman I’d been with. When my husband and I began dating, I told him that I was bisexual. “I don’t care who you were with before,” he told me. “But once it’s just you and me, it’s just you and me.”

And that’s why—as lovely and sweet as my affair with Artist Girl was—it was awful, too. I felt sick about lying to my husband, sick about wanting to be with her, sick for not just calling it off—or avoiding it in the first place.

My relationship with Artist Girl ended very, very badly. One night while in bed with her husband, she told him about us, foolishly thinking it would “turn him on.” It didn’t. He was furious and threatened to tell my husband. I knew I had to tell him myself.

When I confessed, he was crushed, more because I had lied to him than because I had slept with her. I cried and cried, wondering if I had destroyed my marriage, if he would leave me, but also wondering if I would ever be happy, ever be sexually satisfied, ever find a way to make this work.

“I want you to talk dirty to me,” I told him. “To tie me up. To attack me in the middle of the day on the kitchen floor.”

“I can’t, baby,” he’d say, drawing me into his arms. “I love you.”

And slowly I began to figure it out. For my husband, sex with me was about loving me. And loving me was about caring for and respecting me.

One day, on a whim, really, I asked my husband about a longtime friend of mine. She had once been a grad student at the university where I taught. I had helped her get through research papers, exams, and first-time teaching assignments.


She spent a lot of long nights and weekend afternoons at our house during those two years, and we became close friends. Even after finishing her degree, she still spent a lot of time at the house.

“Have you ever thought about sleeping with her?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. My husband has no poker face. “OK, yes, but …”

“But what?” I asked.

“Well, first of all, she’d never want to sleep with me. She’s 10 years younger than I am. And second, I don’t want to be with anyone else.”

We’d joked about it plenty of times before. “When are you going to let me at that hot husband of yours?” she’d ask me.

“Really?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “I mean, I don’t need to.”

“But do you want to?” I didn’t need him to answer me. It was clear that, in his head, he was already there.

“She’s hot,” he said.

“I know,” I laughed. “So … ?”

“So, of course I’d like to sleep with her. But what about you?”

“Of course,” I replied. “I’d like to sleep with her too, silly.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he said.

“I know. I know. So … ?”

“So, bring it on,” he teased.

“She’s dying to sleep with you, you know.”

It was true—I knew she was interested. We’d joked about it plenty of times before.


“When are you going to let me at that hot husband of yours?” she’d ask me. “Whenever you like,” I”d tell her. I started teasing my husband about it every now and then. Sometimes when we’d have sex I’d talk about her being there. It always was about wanting more sex than my husband could offer, and sex different from that which any one person could provide. I pushed him over the edge.

Finally, I decided it was time.

We slipped into bed with my husband as if we’d done it a hundred times before, one on either side of him.

“Let’’s do it,” I said to her one night when we were at my house, watching yet another terrible, made-for-TV movie. She knew exactly what I was talking about.

“You sure?” she asked.

“Are you?” I asked back.

“Yeah,” she said. “As long as you’re positive it won’t mess us up.”

“I don’t think it will,” I said. “But you know I can’t promise that.”

“I know,” she said. “But promise me anyway.”

“OK,” I told her. “I promise.”

A few hours later, my husband came home. He slid onto the couch next to me, putting his hand on my right thigh, under the throw blanket. Her hand was already on my left. A few seconds later, I felt their hands accidentally touch, and I saw them look at one another. I’m pretty sure that was the exact moment my husband realised what was going on.

“I’m beat,” he said a short while later. “I’m going to bed.”

“We’ll be up soon,” I said. He kissed me, and began to walk away.

“What about me?” she asked. He looked at me, and then kissed her, long and hard. Laughing, he shook his head.


“You girls,” he said, as he headed upstairs. When the movie ended, we followed. We slipped into bed with my husband as if we’d done it a hundred times before, one on either side of him.

Everything that followed felt equally natural.

It was amazing to watch them together. It was hot, but it was also very sweet. She was so lost in him and he in her. I was able to see him as a human being, if you know what I mean. Not as my husband or my daughter’s father, but as a man, a sexual being, a person who wants to be wanted, who needs to be wanted.

“My husband and I had a six-month affair with my close friend.”

My husband and I had a six-month affair with my close friend. The three of us had sex. He and she had sex. She and I had sex. And, of course, he and I continued to have sex, just the two of us. The arrangement eventually faded out, and we all slipped back into our previous relationships. But my marriage was forever changed. Our experience with her was the catalyst that led us to explore open marriage.

It’s been interesting and hard and wonderful and confusing. We give each other what we need, including freedom and space. We respect one another. And we are self-aware enough to know that we’re interested in, and capable of, exploring sex, whatever that means for us and despite what it may mean for anyone else. (That is, of course, anyone not sexually involved with us.) It has brought my husband and me closer than I ever imagined possible.

My husband hasn’t pursued anyone since my friend. He says he’s too shy to pick up girls, and, really, he doesn’t feel the need. I can sometimes tell that the fact that I do hurts him. “Intellectually,” he explains, “I totally get it. But sometimes, emotionally, it’s hard.”


“I know,” I tell him. “Do you need me to stop?”

“No,” he says. “I’m not that guy. But you have to bear with me. I’m still trying to figure all of this out.”

“Hey,” I reply. “Me too.”

And it’s true. Neither of us really knows how we feel or what will or won’t work until we test it out. It all boils down to effective communication—without it, no marriage, open or otherwise, stands a chance.

Sex is a happy thing, a good thing. If I can find happiness in something so simple, without hurting anyone, why wouldn’t I? There’s no one swinging from our chandeliers. We don’t attend parties with fishbowls for keys at the door.

Lots of people are basically in open marriages: They have illicit affairs. My husband and I simply decided we were ready to be honest, with ourselves and with each other, about what we want and need.

Why am I married, then? Many people have asked me that question. So I’ll tell you exactly what I tell them. As hot as it makes me when a new conquest whispers something scandalous in my ear, nothing thrills me like the sound of my husband’s voice when I hear him say, “Hey, baby, I’m home.”


This is an edited version of a piece originally published on It has been republished here with full permission.

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