You Need Help: Can I Open My Relationship and Have Casual Sex Without Relying On The Apps?

Q:

I recently asked my partner if they would be okay with opening up our relationship. I’m entering my mid-twenties and have a newfound sense of incredible horniness and my partner has zero interest in sex right now. They were so understanding and supportive and that’s why I love them! But now that we’ve set the ground rules, I don’t know how to make it happen. My partner and I haven’t been having sex for about the last two years, and so on the one hand I am itching for a taste but I am also feeling really inexperienced. I’m worried this hypothetical lover won’t be interested in hooking up with me because I’m in an open relationship or that I’ll inadvertently hurt someone due to my inexperience. Any general advise on crushing this self-doubt (and maybe also some good research materials?) would be so loved and appreciated.

Now, the part that is the most tricky seeming (to me) is that my partner and I both agreed that using dating apps was not something we’re comfortable with. I’m hoping for something to happen more organically, and I also don’t feel like I can be safe AND direct (Can I?? is it okay that my bio would probably read: please just fuck me. also you have to be cool with the fact that I have a long-term boo). Meanwhile, my partner has high anxiety over any social tension that could arise in our friend group. A lot of them call me and my partner wives (we’re not married), are on The Apps and idk… are judgmental?

At first I thought it would be fine not using dating apps. I travel a lot for work, go out to bars, etc. But I wasn’t expecting that it would be so hard to just meet someone? unplanned? Is this not something people do anymore? I feel like I’m making it obvious I Want To Be Approached. But so far, I haven’t had success and everyone is in groups! I am freaking out that dating apps are the only way I’m going to have the sexy one night stand of my dreams (or develop a friends with benefits type situation?? *heart eyes*). How can I start having casual sex with people if I don’t want to use dating apps and kinda don’t know where to start, in general?

A:

Hello, friend! I’m going to answer your question in parts, because I feel you are asking two separate questions.

Opening a Relationship 101

So in the beginning of your question, you express excitement that your partner is open to opening up, and also concern that you may cause harm by being new to non-monogamy. I think both of those feelings are fair. And the truth is, you may inadvertently hurt someone in your new escapades — but we are always at risk of hurting people we are in relationship with, whether those relationships are serious, casual, or somewhere in between. And yet we still continue to connect, because humans crave connection and because it can be fun, satisfying, emotional, all the good stuff! It’s sometimes helpful for me to remember that everyone entering into a relationship is a consenting adult who knows about this possible risk of hurt, yet still chooses to dive in. Be kind and communicative, but know that you are not responsible for making sure no one ever experiences hurt.

I think wanting to explore resources and really delve into understanding non-monogamy is an excellent instinct, and I’m happy to provide you with some texts, podcasts, and other suggested reading. I also think the truth is that every single person I know who has ever practiced non-monogamy (myself included) has told me that the learning happens as you go, and no matter how much you try to prepare yourself (or your partners), real life moments pop up and surprise you. But that’s okay. Going into this new chapter of your life will have a learning curve. That’s true of almost all new chapters in our lives. That’s called growth.

You also expressed concern that people won’t want to hookup with you because you’re in a relationship. As long as you’re upfront about your relationship status, I wouldn’t worry about this. Some people won’t want to hookup with you because of it — and that’s a good thing! Finding the right match for a sexual encounter is just as much about saying no to the people who don’t make sense as it is about saying fuck yes to the people who do make sense. This is doubly true for engaging in non-monogamy. You want to be sure you and your casual sex partners are on the same page and looking for the same things (in this case, casual sex) and so if someone is looking for a deeper connection, uninterested in non-monogamy, or simply unnerved about sleeping with someone without a lot of experience in this realm (non-monogamy) yet, it’s a gift to have them say no! The people who want to say yes are the people you should be putting energy into.

(I know you’re kind of kidding in your question, but to be honest, yes, being direct in a profile on the apps is ideal. I would probably not word it exactly as you have — again, I know you’re kidding, but I also feel it’s a good time to mention my favorite writer on the subject of polyamory, DaemonumX, and her incredible motto: TOPS ARE NOT VENDING MACHINES! — but stating what you’re looking for is a good way to find people who would vibe with exactly that. I think it’s sketchy to say “Looking for casual fun” on a dating profile and not mention you have a serious longterm partner if that’s the case. When I was on the apps, lots of people flagged if they were non-monogamous and partnered, and saying exactly what you mean is hot, sexy, and honest, which is of course the hottest and sexiest thing of all!)

For me, actively practicing my self-confidence (may I recommend this piece I wrote in 2019 which, if I may say so myself, is still a Total Banger) and also arming myself with research is a way to crush self-doubt. So I recommend you spend some time looking in the mirror reminding yourself how hot and great you are, and also dive into the Autostraddle archives. I’ve collected a brief sampling of our work on non-monogamy, but there’s much more on the site if you dig around!

Resources for Exploring Non-Monogamy

8 Podcasts to Get Started With Polyamory and Non-Monogamy

#PolyamoryProblems: Opening Your Relationship 101

The Polyamory Workbook Offers Practical Tips for Navigating Any Relationship

11 Books for Getting Started with Polyamory and Non-Monogamy

Poly Pocket: Figuring Out Where To Start

Can I Find Casual Sex Partners Without Using The Apps?

In short, yes. But let’s discuss in long.

Obviously before dating apps existed, people cruised and hooked up! It’s true that the apps are a resource that make this very very very easy, but it’s also true that you don’t need to use them. I was going to suggest going out to bars and events without your partner, but your question indicates that you already do this. I do want to zoom in on one specific detail you mentioned though: “I feel like I’m making it obvious I Want To Be Approached.” I have to respond: Have you considered that in this situation you may need to Do The Approaching?

I know it can be intimidating to approach new people in public, but that is literally what you have to do if you want to meet new people. Sure, maybe some nights you’ll encounter a confident queer who makes a beeline for you and starts chatting, but you know how you can guarantee a confident queer is in the room chatting to new people? Be The Confident Queer You Want To See At The Bar!

I might sound cheeky, and I’m being a bit cheeky, but honestly, one cannot wait around forever hoping people approach us when we want to be approached. Sometimes one must screw up one’s courage, approach someone new, and make the first move. Some people will respond “but I’m a bottom!” and to that I say, bottoms can totally approach hot babes at the bar and make it obvious, through flirtation, innuendo, vibes, and clear communication, that while you are confident and brave and good at asking for what you want, you are Not A Top. As a bottom who loves doing this, I offer you solidarity and I am here to say I believe in you!

A Note on Judgmental Friends

You say in your letter that you and your partner have decided neither of you feel comfortable using the apps, and if that’s what you’ve agreed upon, that’s just fine. As I outlined above, I do strongly believe you can have casual sex even while not using the apps. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t focus for just a moment on one last aspect of your letter. You write: “Meanwhile, my partner has high anxiety over any social tension that could arise in our friend group. A lot of them call me and my partner wives (we’re not married), are on The Apps and idk… are judgmental?” 

Your partner not wanting you to use the apps is reason enough not to use them, but I have to say, anyone who is judgmental about folks who choose to open their relationship are kind of jerks who have work to do on themselves! It’s not your job to get your friend group comfortable with the intricacies of your intimate relationship, and it also may lead to tension in the future if you and your partner feel you have something to hide from your friends. I don’t think everyone who practices non-monogamy has to like, shout it from the rooftops, but I am lightly concerned that the people you’re surrounding yourself with would be judgmental about something that you and your partner are both consenting to in the context of your relationship and something that is very normal and will likely bring you joy. I’m not saying you Must Use The Apps or that you should Ditch Your Friends… I’m just suggesting that prioritizing what you and your partner need to feel good and happy in your partnership is more important than your friends’ judgments. And hey, maybe they wouldn’t be judgmental at all. Just some things to think about.

So Can You Open Your Relationship and Have Casual Sex Without Relying On The Apps?

You sure can. I hope you find the above helpful, and I hope our commenters who have experience with this will chime in, too. I wish you the best on this fun journey, and I hope you have all the casual sex a queer could ever desire!


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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Vanessa

Vanessa is a writer, a teacher, and the community editor at Autostraddle. Very hot, very fun, very weird. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 404 articles for us.

5 Comments

    • Best way to be approachable by women as a women is to ironically not care if you are approached, but also be noticeable in public. This is really the best if you are using going out as an excuse to dress up as opposed to getting laid. You are not trying to get fucked. You needed an excuse to show off your new purse. (You also need to appreciate other people’s purses.)

      Also, do this in a space where there isn’t a ton of men, so you aren’t constantly fending them off or competing with them. This also kind of works better outside of deliberately queer spaces but still a high percentage of queer women

      Board game night = bad
      Queer wine tasting = maybe
      Marina release party = good

      (Also, approaching women doesn’t have to be a weird stilted parody of men. Just tell them you like their tattoo)

  1. If the only reason for not using apps is worry that friends might see, you might look into Lex? It’s all text based and you don’t have to put a photo (though many people do). you can write your own spicy post, or even better, just respond to other people’s posts after determining that they aren’t in your friend group. Seems a lot easier to stay anonymous on there (and you can just send pics later as the chat progresses)

  2. As a bottom who regularly goes up to people and flirts, I concur!
    I find art gatherings or events outside the ordinary to be the best place to chat people up – you can talk about the art or the event as an easy conversatio starter.
    Also my best piece of advice is to go alone. If I go with a friend I never screw up the courage to talk to someone else. But if I’m alone eventually I spend enough time feeling “I wish I were talking to someone right now” to actually do it
    Oh, and practice makes perfect, it gets easier!
    Good luck!

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