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The training stressed the intent of each question in the guide so interviewers were not required to ask them in a particular order, giving the interviews a natural flow and participants the freedom to discuss other issues they felt were salient. All interviews were audio tape recorded using cassette recorders and transcribed verbatim.

The research staff member who conducted the interview was responsible for reviewing the accompanying transcript for accuracy e.


Reviewed transcripts were grouped by couple and read by two research staff members. One served as primary reader, leading the preliminary analysis of the transcripts, while the other reader was secondary, giving feedback on that analysis. Throughout the process, different research staff members took the lead in analyzing transcripts. In the preliminary analysis, readers summarized each partner's transcript, identified main areas of interest, and then created a new document that summarized both partners as a couple and identified main areas of interest for the couple.

Members of the study team discussed summaries at weekly meetings, at which point additions and corrections to the summaries could be made and any discrepancies between the two readers could be resolved. Themes that emerged from the summaries were used to identify and develop codes.

Codes were developed by research staff members and fell into the following categories: Only the categories concerning sexual agreements and sexual behaviors with outside partners and relationship dynamics were utilized for the present analysis. Within those categories, approximately two dozen codes were applied to the data.

Codes that focused on the agreement included the following: Codes that focused on sexual behavior with outside partners included sexual preferences, reported incidences of oral and anal sex, incidences of unprotected sex, and sex roles. Finally, codes that focused on relationship dynamics included satisfaction, honesty, trust, intimacy, couple serostatus, and motivation.

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Once codes were identified, research staff members applied them to selected sections of the transcripts to verify code definition and application consistency among team members. When agreement was found among research staff, which in some cases required revising the definition of certain codes, the transcripts were coded. The coding process began by having two research staff members coders code the same transcript independently of one another.

Afterwards, they met to compare their coded transcripts for discrepancies. Together with a third staff member, coders reconciled any discrepancies. This process was repeated until both coders demonstrated sufficiently consistent coding techniques approximately the first 10 transcripts coded. All subsequent interviews were coded by one coder only, rather than both simultaneously, and all were verified by a third staff member Frieze, Both coders, along with the third staff member, coded all 78 transcripts.

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Further analysis using Ethnograph version 5. Interview data were sorted two ways: Agreement negotiation was highly organic process that was influenced by a wide range of issues, including the age of the individuals in the relationship, the length of the relationship, experiences in prior relationships, and individual levels of comfort talking about sensitive issues, such as sex. For example, several participants described how their prior experiences in monogamous relationships led them, for one reason or another, to open or desire to open their current relationship and allow sex with outside partners.

Not everyone described the same pattern. Coming from the opposite direction, one participant described his prior experience in open relationships and expressed his desire to close his current relationship which was open. Agreement negotiation usually involved a mix of the following three scenarios: Clarifying a current agreement often happened at the beginning of the relationship, immediately after a break, or both.

Opening a monogamous agreement usually took the form of gradually adding conditions that allowed one or both partners to have sex with outside partners. An example of one such condition was allowing threesomes i. Renegotiating a broken agreement typically involved making a previously implicit agreement more explicit, adding a new agreement to existing ones, creating an entirely new agreement because the broken was effectively annulled, or some combination thereof.

Agreement types reported by participants fell along a continuum of more closed to more open, with considerable overlap. Thinking of agreements types as existing on a continuum, rather than in discrete categories, not only captures the individual meanings participants assigned to their agreements, but also the shifts that many couples reported experiencing over time. For example, some couples reported having an open relationship, but only for threesomes. Similarly, other couples reported having threesomes yet described their agreements using the vocabulary of a closed or monogamous relationship.

One participant described it thusly: It was not uncommon for these couples to associate feelings of love and commitment to their monogamous agreement when they described it. It is important to understand, however, that closed agreements did not necessarily foreclose outside sexual encounters. On the contrary, a few couples who reported closed or monogamous agreements allowed some form of sex with outside partners. One particularly striking example of this was reported by a couple where one partner worked as a masseur.

Both partners described their monogamous agreement as being explicitly understood. Partner 2, the masseur, made it clear from the beginning of their relationship that his job had an erotic component to it whereby he sometimes masturbated his clients. He maintained that this did not affect their monogamous agreement because masturbating his clients was part of his job and, as such, did not constitute outside sex or a break in the agreement. He described his thought process on the issue:.

Like when the massage is happening, if I'm just massaging the person and the person is receiving the pleasure, that's fine. But if the pleasure starts to extend over to me, like if I start to get sexually involved personally with the client, then that's different altogether.

This couple demonstrates that even an agreement as seemingly straightforward as monogamy has a relative meaning that each couple defines for themselves. As a construct, closed or monogamous agreements continued to hold currency for many couples, even for those who were not necessarily exclusive sexually. Several couples who permitted outside sex in one form or another used the vocabulary of monogamy when discussing their agreements.

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For this participant, being monogamous in nearly every other aspect of his relationship e. Even though these couples allowed some degree of outside sex, the idea and label of monogamy remained an important fixture in their relationships and agreements. Most of those couples described agreements that were neither completely closed nor completely open, testifying to the overlap and fluidity of the different types of agreements reported by participants. What distinguished them, however, were the conditions couples placed on whether or not sex with outside partners was allowed and how those conditions limited sexual behavior.

Two conditions emerged most frequently: Several couples described agreements that allowed threesomes. For most of these couples, sex with a third person was something they only did together and many of them made a point of qualifying it. One couple reported explicit rules to this effect. One participant said of his agreements regarding threesomes:. So one rule is that we will do it together…. We both should agree on the person we would like to be with us.

And then safe sex, we have very safe sex. We are more into jerking off, touching the body, licking the body, but not sucking or rimming and things like that. Sometimes we kiss the person.

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We like to kiss, but that's the most we do. And we let the person know that we are a couple, we are together, and we have our rules. That's so the person who joins us knows what's going on.

For this couple, involving a third person was not a casual sexual act or something they took lightly. They had clear conditions or rules, including agreeing on who the third person would be and the types of sexual behaviors that they would do together, that limited sex with outside partners. No other outside sex was allowed for this couple. Many other couples reported agreements that addressed the importance of separating physical from emotional intimacy with outside partners.

Couples with this condition prioritized their relationship together by forbidding emotional connections with outside partners. For another couple, allowing outside sex on the condition that they separated physical from emotional intimacy was an integral part of how they accepted sex as a natural part of their adult lives.

And there are differences between sex and intimacy, making love. It can be two different things. So within the relationship it's understood that if one happens then that's all it would be. For these participants, sex with outside partners was only a physical, sexual expression, and because of their agreement to separate that from emotional intimacy their partners were not threatened by it. Other conditions that limited sex with outside partners emerged less frequently, such as the request one participant made to his partner that they not have sex with friends or past lovers.

The condition of separating physical from emotional intimacy with outside sex partners was central to how these participants reconciled their desire for sex with outside partners with their need or desire for a meaningful connection to and relationship with their primary partners. Unlike the majority of couples with agreements that allowed sex with outside partners and who placed conditions that limited outside sex in some way, a small number of couples did not report any conditions that would limit sex with outside partners.

Importantly, however, this should not suggest that their agreements were condition-less. The conditions reported by these couples instead focused on the requirement that there be honesty, respect, or discretion around having sex with outside partners.

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Outside that, these couples placed no other conditions on the sex they had with outside partners, and these arrangements seemed to work for these couples. For some couples with open agreements, discretion meant they did not want to know or talk about outside sex. One participant was succinct: However, not all couples with open agreements felt this way. Two participants reported discussing the sex they had outside their relationship with their partners. The other said he enjoyed hearing about the sex his partner had outside the relationship and that hearing about it turned him on.

For those couples who chose to discuss outside sexual encounters, communication and honesty were central parts of their agreements and provided an additional level of security and intimacy. Discrepant agreements occurred when both partners reported agreements that were different enough so that there was little to no overlap in what their reported agreement was and what sexual behavior it allowed.

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For example, in one couple, Partner 1 said that sex with outside partners was not allowed, although if his partner wanted to open the relationship, he was amenable to discussing the possibility. Interestingly, both partners not only described discrepant agreements about whether or not they allowed sex with outside partners, they also described different attitudes towards discussing outside partners: Thus, discrepancies sometimes appeared in multiple aspects of the same agreement. Alongside understanding the types of agreements reported by participants was the issue of whether there was parity in those agreements.

Parity was defined as both partners understanding their agreement in the same way and behaving accordingly. During the analysis, parity was examined alongside the issue of whether agreements were understood implicitly or explicitly.