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Can a Sexual 'Hall Pass' Be Good for a Long-term Relationship?

Some couples see sex — with someone else — as a means of staying together

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Spring 2014 Life@50+

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Michael Castleman: I recently watched Hall Pass, too. Like Pepper, I found it eminently forgettable. But with all due respect to monogamy, it’s not the only way.

Polygamy was common in the Bible. In ancient Britain, that well-known sex commentator Julius Caesar reported that its counterpart, polyandry (one woman, several men), was a common practice. And the Lusi of Papua, New Guinea, believe that healthy fetal development requires pregnant women to have intercourse with many men.

Finally, some cultures have standing free-for-alls: In 1985, anthropologist Thomas Gregor counted 88 active sexual relationships among the 37 adults of a single village in the Amazon.

Non-monogamy occurs in urban tribes, too. Most U.S. cities harbor sex clubs or swing clubs. The former are open to anyone; the latter are open to couples and single women. And don’t even get me started on Craigslist Personals, where couples advertise for threesomes, partner swaps and group sex.

Strict monogamists claim that non-monogamy "can’t work." And while a hall pass is risky, as Pepper points out, it’s also true that committing to a relationship is a risk — a big risk, given that one-half of all marriages fail. This explains why some couples consider it more of a risk to insist on monogamy and create the conditions for secret affairs than to grant a hall pass every now and then.

I happen to know four long-term couples who have been happily non-monogamous for decades — and I like to think it’s not just because I live in California.

One couple is mostly monogamous, but the woman spends a long weekend each month with her “secondary man,” who lives an hour’s drive away. A second couple is usually monogamous, but every year the man arranges for another man (or two) to join them to celebrate the woman’s birthday — in bed. With a third couple, the two spouses are monogamous at home but grant each other hall passes when they travel solo for business. With a fourth, each spouse has a “secondary” (or two) who lives nearby. Each partner is allowed to visit his or her secondary about once a month or when the spouse is out of town.

“I’m in love only with my husband,” the woman in this fourth couple says. “And my husband is in love only with me. But we enjoy playing outside our marriage, usually with people we both know socially, sometimes with people one of us knows from work.”

As you may have gathered, these couples do not regard a hall pass or its variants as cheating — so long as one spouse secures the other’s advance consent to be “excused from class.”

So is a hall pass a harmless fidelity furlough or a certain ticket to tears?

I believe there’s no right or wrong way to be coupled or to manage one’s marriage — there’s merely what works best for the two people involved. Arrangements that work well may look bizarre to outsiders. But if strict monogamy is not your cup of tea, I say it’s fine to brew up something else.

Read more from Dr. Pepper Schwartz and Michael Castleman.

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SECRETS TO HAVING A SUPER SEX LIFE: Relationships expert Dr. Dorree Lynn offers tips for how people 50+ can have the best sex of their lives.

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