Sex comes in countless forms and variations. The most common forms of sexual activity, those which do not challenge the partners’ comfort zones, are often referred to by those who do venture outside the common comfort zone as “vanilla sex.”


But without any value judgements, people explore and experiment with innumerable ways to be sexual and every kind of sex is also a kind of normal. In a quest for intense excitement some sexual partners go beyond the line of “no more” for others. The types of experimentation and preferences excite and satisfy some while others regard these kinds of sex play as strange, weird and even disturbing. Andrew Aaron, LICSW has helped all kinds of sexual partners with the pain and limitations they bump into in their sexual journeys.

Open Relationships

Some married and long-term partners seek increased excitement by including additional sex partners beyond just each other. Couples choose multi-partner experiences for many reasons. Some partners strongly believe that they cannot be satisfied with just one lover. Others seek excitement of greater intensity. The unique eroticism of a partner May crave a particular kind of sexual interaction.

     The variations of including other sexual partners are broad as well. Sometimes couples choose to play with other couples. This may be an intimate relationship with a specific other couple or many couples. The open relationship may be defined by the partners as each is free to develop relationships and sexual relationships with others outside the primary relationship. Another variation is that a couple may have a single friend who joins in sexual activities. The opportunities for novelty may make the open relationship arrangement attractive because novelty is an aspect that creates high sexual excitement.

     At the same time that playing with multiple partners may heighten the sexual excitement, each arrangement has specific challenges. Whenever additional partners are included, the complexity of relationships increases. If boundaries, communication, complete openness, honesty are not rigorous, multi-partner arrangements may easily cause hurt, jealousy and awaken painful insecurities. A danger exists that new connections result in affairs that go beyond the agreed upon boundaries resulting in hurt, feelings of betrayal and damaged trust. If partners are not strong and secure, with great care and sensitivity to each other. Multi-partner experiences may threaten and harm the primary relationship.

Swingers and Swinging

A group of people who gather for the purpose of friendship, connection and sexual excitement are known as swingers. They gather for the purpose of exploring multi-partner sexual experiences within the structured but safe and contained environment of an invitation only gathering or at a club devoted to the swinging lifestyle. They operate with a set of rules so an understanding exists among members how to behave and an etiquette to follow so that the positive experience is maximized among participants.

     The same excitement and cautions exist among those who participate in the swinging lifestyle as do those who choose to have an open relationship. If boundaries, communication, complete openness, honesty are not rigorous, multi-partner arrangements may easily cause hurt, jealousy and awaken painful insecurities.


A different variation of multiple-partner sexual arrangements is polyamory.  Participants are open to forming multiple long-term love relationships simultaneously. Often a polyamorous individual has a primary love relationship and also spends time sharing love and sometimes sex with a secondary lover, a relationship that is completely known, understood and accepted by the primary partner. Among polyamorous couples, both partners may be involved with many others. There may be couples in which only one partner enjoys multiple relationships. A society of polyamorous people exists that have codify methods and practices to aid in the success of creating multiple positive and stable love relationships.

     The challenges of a polyamorous lifestyle are slightly different and perhaps even more challenging than the two earlier multi-partner arrangements because polyamorous couples are attempting to balance and maintain long-term love relationships simultaneously. Balance is the key along with rigorous boundaries, communication, complete openness, honesty, otherwise the relationships may become destabilized. Managing feelings of jealousy and insecurity can be strenuous.


It is an acronym that stands for Bondage, Domination, Submission and sado Masochism. This kind of sex play tests the participants personal boundaries, which is part of the thrill. BDSM may or may not include multiple partners. The issue of power is played with so that partners fill roles of powerful and powerless in the form of a dominant partner and submissive partner. The roles are determined by each partner’s erotic make-up. 

     Bondage, or tying up and binding a partner, is the way in which the dominating partner renders the submissive partner powerless. Trust is of utmost importance as the submissive partner surrenders completely to the power and will of the dominant partner. The dominant partner has the life of the submissive partner literally in her or his hands. Because power play can be dangerous pre-determined rules are formed so as to insure safety…such as a “safe word” the submissive partner may express to discontinue all play when a limit or boundary has been reached.

     Some BDSM players include the use of pain within the sexual activity. Doing so increases the level of intensity dramatically. Playing with pain causes the both the vulnerability and secretion of endorphins to cause the experience to be extremely exciting, but also forms an intense intimate bond between sexual partners.


A broad assortment of sexual practices and experimentations which may or may not include BDSM and which go beyond what is generally considered “normal” sexual activities. 

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