Sex & Relationships

Could a ‘Sex Pass’ Save Your Relationship?

Stepping outside the bounds of monogamy may help keep love alive.

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Relationships have their ups and downs, and some couples will do anything to keep theirs intact—even if it involves letting a partner bring someone else into the bedroom. Sex passes, as some call them, are officially a thing, and some believe they can restore happiness to an otherwise rocky relationship. 

Of course, allowing your partner to take other lovers is a pretty big shift to stomach.

“It takes a certain amount of compersion,” says sex therapist Ian Kerner and author of the book, She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman. Compersion, a word used by the polyamorous community, is described as the flip side of jealousy; the idea of feeling happy for your lover having found happiness in another.

According to Kerner, those who started a life together based on the romantic notion of “till death do us part” might have a hard time squaring the details of a newly non-monogamous pact. “I’ve seen this arrangement work for couples whose sexual temperaments are really aligned around that kind of adventurousness and openness, for couples with open marriages where that was part of the relationship at the very beginning,” he says. “I think it’s more difficult when you’re in what was architected as an exclusively monogamous relationship from the beginning.”

But it does happen. In an interview with the Telegraph, a woman named Dianne explained that her libido hit a low after approaching menopause. “We used to make love all night in the early days, but now we haven’t had sex since the beginning of 2008,” she said. Her marriage was otherwise still intimate and happy, so Dianne made it clear she would be okay if her husband sought sex elsewhere. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, 16 percent of long-term couples, some as young as 35, have “little or no” sex. “It’s certainly common to feel bored. It’s certainly common to lose libido, to have medical issues or lifestyle issues that affect your ability to have sex,” says Kerner.

For those unwilling to call it quits due to matters relating to sex, opening things up might make some sense. Psychologist Esther Perel explained, “Monogamy has nothing to do with love.”

And it’s not just guys who end up seeking sex outside of the relationship. “I’ve seen women initiate a desire for non-monogamy just as often as men,” says Kerner.

Coming to some kind of mutually acceptable agreement however, can be tough. “It’s a narrow lane,” says Kerner. “It’s difficult for two people to arrive at a common definition of ‘non monogamy’ that they can both be comfortable with. It encompasses so much difference and nuance.”

He added, “Where I’ve seen things go awry is when one person is really reluctantly going on the ride that the other person wants to go on.” Kerner also cautions that agreements based on the premise of “no attachments” can be hard to enforce. Once sex turns into romance, it could be hard to keep the foundation of the primary relationship intact.

Still, the drive for sexual fulfillment is strong. For couples that excel in communication and compromise, non-monogamy may provide a new solution to a lingering problem. Loyalty, Perel explains, doesn’t only come in the form of fidelity. 

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture.