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The term “open-minded” gets thrown around in sex-positive circles. Along with phrases like Dan Savage’s ‘GGG‘ (good, giving, and game) and Jan Hardy’s Ethical Slut, “open-minded” is geared in theory to reduce the stigma surrounding those looking to explore their sexuality.

While it’s true that an open-minded attitude towards sex can bring about greater sexual fulfillment, sometimes the term “open-minded” can be used to shame those uninterested in trying a particular sexual practice.     

So what does “open-minded” actually mean when it comes to one’s explorations around the topic of sexuality? To help answer this question, I turned to the website Delicto, a resource on exploring pleasure, with product reviews, how-to guides, and a wide selection of carefully-curated sex toys and accessories. 

Defining “open-minded” 

The sex experts at Delicto refer to “open-minded” as openness of the heart and mind when approaching one’s sexuality. A sexual willingness to view sex without preconceived notions or judgments. A sexually open person can discuss different kinds of sex and sexual orientations and approach the idea of sex with curiosity.” Some examples of being open-minded about sex include a willingness to: 

  • Try new sexual positions  
  • Have friends of different sexual orientations or genders 
  • Examine your attitudes and feelings about sex 
  • Talk about sex with your friends or partner(s) 
  • Experiment with sex toys  
  • Masturbate  
  • Learn and grow as you learn more about your sexuality 
  • Approach the thought of sex without negativity or guilt 
  • Clearly communicate your sexual boundaries to your partner(s). 

What open-minded is not

Think of sexual openness as existing on a continuum with each person deciding what works for them. As the term “open-minded” can have different meanings to different people, the sex experts at Delicto note that one can be sexually open without being as sexually open as other people in their circles. Terms like “sex positive” and “sexual freedom” can be used to push people into sexual practices that do not feel right for them. Should anyone decide not to partake in a particular sexual activity, then words like “prude”, “frigid”, and “sex-negative” tend to get thrown at them.

Sexual boundaries should be viewed as healthy signs of self-esteem. A simple “no” should suffice, and saying “no” does not mean that someone isn’t sexually open or sex-positive. A person can remain open-minded about sex even if they are monogamous or asexual or refuse to engage in any particular practice that does not speak to them. A sign of a healthy sex life is when a person only says “hell yes” to those sexual practices that bring them genuine pleasure and “no” to those activities that don’t interest them. Even if a person enjoys expressing their sexuality in ways that can be deemed taboo by many in mainstream society such as BDSM, polyamory, or group sex, they have the right to say “no” if they are not in the mood to engage in this particular activity at a given moment.  

Open-minded vs. open relationship  

The word “open” can make it easy to confuse the concept of sexual openness with an open marriage or an open relationship. Here it helps to think of sexual openness as having a positive curiosity about sex and a non-judgemental attitude. In comparison, an open relationship refers to having sex or a romantic relationship with more than one person at a time with all involved parties consenting to these relationships. 

How to be open-minded with a partner

As it can be intimidating to open up sexually, suggests doing so gradually. “The concept of openness may seem easy, but bringing more sexual expression into your relationship can be intimidating.” 

Here are some ideas they recommend to help one become more open and expressive when it comes to sex: 

  • Talk to your partner. Here honesty is key. Phrases like “what would you think about this?” or “would you be willing to try?” are non-threatening ways to start the discussion, and can feel less threatening to a partner who is accustomed to a less sexually open relationship.  
  • Be open in non-sexual ways. Cultivating verbal openness by talking about one’s experiences, hopes, and dreams. Also, explore physical openness by being more affectionate, giving massages and foot rubs, taking a shower together, and making physical closeness a priority.  
  • Make it fun. Try not to be so serious by adopting a lighthearted outlook and willingness to laugh at oneself. Flirt with each other more often, plan dates together, and express desires to try new sexual positions, use sex toys, or other sexual desires. 
  • Make it safe.Create a safe space for sexual exploration by leaving criticism and judgment out of the room. Consider adopting a safe word that signals when one of you wishes to stop a particular sexual practice. This is particularly true if one partner is less experienced and comfortable with sex than the other.   
  • Be encouraging. If one partner is more reluctant than the other, allow them to open up at their own pace. after one’s desires have been expressed, refrain from pushing anyone to do anything that gives them serious pause. Allow them time to develop trust and a sense of comfort in being vulnerable in such an intimate setting.  
  • See a professional. Consider seeking out a trained therapist if encounter emotional barriers like guilt, judgment, or anxiety. These feelings may stem from prior sexual abuse,  being raised in a sexually repressive family, or coming from a background where boundaries were not respected. A trained trauma therapist can help one overcome the ongoing impact of trauma. Also, a couples therapist or sex educator can offer tools for those couples who want to be open-minded but struggle with being sexually open and vulnerable with their partner. 

For those unable to access a therapist or sex educator in person, the online resources available from The Consent Academy can help develop one’s skills around issues about boundaries and consent.

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As a freelance writer with dual MDiv/MSW degree from Yale Divinity School and Columbia University, I focus on the rise of secular spirituality, religious satire, spiritual health & wellness, faith...