What It's Like To Be In An Open Relationship During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has polyamorous and non-monogamous couples renegotiating the rules about their relationships
Couples who practice forms of consensual non-monogamy say their rules on outside sex have morphed to fit the times.
Couples who practice forms of consensual non-monogamy say their rules on outside sex have morphed to fit the times.

Summer Rain, Chacha and Jimmy Silva live together in Los Angeles as a triad ― meaning, they’re all three in a relationship. Jimmy and Chacha were high school sweethearts who met and fell in love with Summer about seven years ago. The trio “wed” last year, after Jimmy proposed with rings made from the same stone, for symbolism’s sake. Both women took Jimmy’s last name.

Their relationship is also an open one: “We see other people, together,” Jimmy explained.

It’s a complicated arrangement that works perfectly for them. But now, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the last few months have been considerably more complicated for the trio.

“The pandemic has affected our travel plans, which we had arranged to see a date of ours,” Jimmy, who works in the cannabis industry, told HuffPost. “I think everyone has been less inclined to hang out and see other people.”

To compensate, the throuple has had a lot of virtual dates with new matches on Facetime.

“The online connection has increased a good amount, giving us time to get to know people,” Jimmy said. “But we much prefer being able to mingle in person and go on dates.”

Summer Rain Silva (left), Jimmy Silva, and Chacha Silva are a triad who live in Los Angeles.
Summer Rain Silva (left), Jimmy Silva, and Chacha Silva are a triad who live in Los Angeles.

Once they do meet a sexual partner in person, they’re not going to take any risks; they care too much about each other to put each other’s safety on the line for sex, Jimmy said.

“We’ve joked, but are partly serious that we’ll completely sanitize each other and do a temperature check beforehand,” he said.

The Silvas are just one of many polyamorous couples grappling with what it means to be “open” when a closed and exclusive arrangement seems a whole lot safer for the time being.

By some estimates, 4% of adults are involved in some form of consensual non-monogamy, also known as “open” relationships.

For those who seek out thirds or fourths ― whether as a couple or separately ― outside sex has become a dicey proposition. COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the saliva, mucus or breath, even from people who are infected but do not have symptoms, so any form of intimacy with a near-stranger has its inherent risk.

Chloe, a digital creative worker in New York City, has been in an open relationship with her boyfriend for eight months. Since COVID, their mutually agreed-upon arrangement has morphed to fit the times.

Now, the couple each has a designated “safe” person they’re allowed to hang out with in an indoor setting. Everyone else is off-limits.

Her boyfriend’s “person” is a lover he’d been seeing prior to the pandemic. The woman “is the only other person who he sees, and he is the only other person who she sees in that circumstance as well,” Chloe told HuffPost.

Chloe, who did not want to give her last name, wasn’t seeing any romantic partners before coronavirus, so her “person” is a close platonic friend she likes to grab dinner with.

“We trust that the two additional people we are spending time with indoors, without masks on, are being honest about their exposure to others too,” she said. “Of course, this comes with a risk, but we have set up precautions around it.”

Aida Lucie, a holistic sexuality educator who lives in Thailand, said she and her partner of five years, Solar Bodhidharma, have sworn off dating entirely. Their open arrangement has always been fluid ― sometimes open, sometimes sexually exclusive, depending on how they’re feeling during any given stretch ― so “no dates allowed” hasn’t been a major shift for them.

“The great thing about being in an open relationship is that we’ve become very comfortable and confident having conversations about sexual health and safety with our intimate partners.”

- Aida Lucie, a holistic sexuality educator

“The openness in open relating for us has always meant looking at and evaluating what serves our growth the most at any given moment, which entails different arrangements at different times,” Lucie said.

“The pandemic has just made us naturally transition into a period of sexual exclusivity,” she said. “We’ve actually had periods where we were sexually exclusive for longer than this so it was not too big of a change for us.”

Many couples, Lucie and Bodhidharma included, said they’re used to having candid conversations; strong open relationships tend to be transparent, with clear-cut rules that are renegotiated when necessary. Talking about the virus and what’s tentatively off-limits now is relatively easy, they said.

“The great thing about being in an open relationship is that we’ve become very comfortable and confident having conversations about sexual health and safety with our intimate partners, so for us with this pandemic it just means we are adding a few more questions to that list,” Lucie said.

The Silvas, meanwhile, said that making sure each person feels safe, secure and prioritized remains at the top of their minds.

“People tend to confuse polyamory with swinging,” Jimmy said. “The primary meaning of polyamory is about having loving relationships or partnerships with more than one person, whereas the swinging lifestyle is more focused on casual, non-emotional sex with your partner and with other couples.”

If he and his wives are seeing anyone new, they’re doing so because they have a baseline trust in that person, he said. And they’d certainly wait for that person to get tested or quarantine for 14 days after potential exposure.

“Bottom line is, we’ll have sex when everyone is feeling well,” he said. “We communicate deeply and often with our partners. We’d normally know someone for the 14-day grace period prior before engaging in sex anyway.”

Risky Business: Love And Sex In A Germaphobic World is a HuffPost series exploring the way that coronavirus is changing the way we date, have sex and enjoy intimacy.

Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but its guidance on COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.


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