Say open relationship, and most Batswana would brush it off with the flick of a hand anda dismissive, “ag! It can never happen here.”
To conservative Batswana it is unorthodox and a glossy excuse for casual infidelity, however, for an adventurous few it’s an opportunity to explore new things in a variety of ways.
Open relationships are relationships which an established couple mutually agree to share a non-monogamous lifestyle.
Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks says, “despite the prevalence of monogamy, a lot of people have sexual relations with people other than their partner. People look down on open relationships for many reasons. Some feel that their physical and/or emotional health and well-being are at risk. For instance, while they are relying on their partner to make good choices and be physically safe, there’s also a lingering chance that he or she may develop serious feelings for someone else, leaving you feeling emotionally unsupported and hurt. Maybe because of the traditional expectations that are put on men, it’s more difficult for them to be open about such relationships. There’s something embarrassing about the woman you’re dating wanting to sleep with other people; as if maybe you’re inadequate.”
Although marred with a lot of stigma, open relationships are nothing new and are becoming more widely accepted in society by millennials.
Some couples want their sexual freedom, but don’t want their relationship tainted with the lies, secrets and ongoing deceptions that affairs have. Most people in monogamous relationships fear an open relationship for one reason: jealousy. Just like with any exclusive relationship, honesty is still the best policy and even more for open relationships. Those who create open relationships create and follow their own set of ‘rules’. Now that society is opening up to the world of sexual expression and gender identities, open relationships are becoming less of a taboo and more and more people are beginning to explore them.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “the concept of eternal monogamy tends to be enforced in most people from a young age. So, when some people diverge from what is expected it becomes hard to understand. The main thing about open relationships, I think, is that the people participating should be as open with each other as possible. This is not always as easy or as obvious as it sounds. To be completely open with another person takes a lot of trust and a lot of courage. It also carries a lot of risk. Whether or not people in an open relationship really trust each other is debatable but some people are in such relationships and find potential comfort in them.”
Champions of open relationships say its benefits may include sexual satisfaction; strong communication skills; and a sense of trust and the ability to express needs without fear. In contrast, most possible issues that usually arise are jealousy, increased vulnerability and the higher risk of STIs. Scores of Batswana who are not convinced that ‘variety is the spice of life’, find it is hard to wrap their heads around the concept of open relationships.
Most people would argue that open relationships work better in theory than they do in real life. Most often, the term ‘open’ is being thrust onto an unwilling partner by the partner who wants to cheat. The decision to be open is not mutual. The partner who wants to cheat makes their infidelity a condition of the relationship. It’s a ‘take it or leave it’ form of transaction. The major principle of open relationships is constant communication. That involves disclosing partners and remaining happy for your partner. But is it really realistic?
While the prevalence of hookups might leave most young people in apparent open relationships throughout their 20s, there are more negative perceptions of non-monogamous relationships than monogamous ones. Non-monogamous/open relationships are perceived as more sexually risky, less morally acceptable, and as having a less trusting and less meaningful relationship. For the people who choose to engage in such affairs, is it more honorable to come to an agreement with their partner or to sneak around and deceive.