By Charlotte Alter and Diane Tsai
April 1, 2015

Robin Rinaldi did what many women dream of but few actually do: she took a year off from her marriage and made an agreement with her husband that they could both sleep with other people for a set period.

Rinaldi’s book, The Wild Oats Project, is a summary of what she learned during the year she spent in an open marriage. The idea came to her when her husband got a vasectomy after a long battle over whether they would have children — she wanted them, he didn’t. Faced with a future without a family, Rinaldi made a decision: “I refuse to go to my grave with no children and only four lovers,” she wrote, “If I can’t have one, I must have the other.”

That’s when she embarked on the Wild Oats Project. Rinaldi and her husband had three rules: no serious relationships, no sex with mutual friends and no sex without condoms. Both broke multiple rules over the course of the year, and it eventually took a toll on their relationship, but Rinaldi says the project wasn’t as much a choice as “a calling.”

“It was unlike me to act that way,” she says. “I had always been a very cautious and somewhat anxious person, I had always played by the rules. It was something instinctual, and something very female driving me to do this. It wasn’t really planned and strategized as much as felt.”

Still, Rinaldi found that, while many of her friends were supportive, some people thought her project was threatening, even terrifying: “The tale of a woman giving up security, even in an above-board way and allowing her husband to do the same thing, giving up all that security in pursuit of passion and adventure, is a scary idea for a lot of people,” she says. “I certainly didn’t write it to intentionally push anyone’s buttons.”

And ultimately, for Rinaldi and her husband, this was their last chance at saving their marriage. “We knew how risky it was, and we might not make it through, but it was really the only choice we had,” she says. “So we both agreed, two consenting adults, to try this first.” Ultimately, she and her husband went their separate ways, but Rinaldi says the project taught her much more than a simple divorce would have.

The biggest thing Rinaldi says she learned from the Wild Oats Project is that she was putting too much pressure on her husband. “Expecting your spouse to provide passion and security and purpose, it’s a lot,” she says. “I was asking too much of that one person… So now, as a result, I don’t look to someone else to kind of unfairly provide all of those things. That’s the biggest thing I learned from it, and I couldn’t have learned it unless I actually went through it.”

She also learned a lot about sex, and about her own body. Rinaldi spent much of the project in new-age sexual workshops and orgasmic meditation classes, so she came away a greater awareness of her sexuality. “The sex was the classroom, but the sex was not the lesson,” she says. “Your body has wisdom, that is very powerful and can kind of show you your path, and you don’t always have to think it through or necessarily act based on other people’s rules.”

Still, Rinaldi wouldn’t necessarily recommend that other women take exactly the same path she did. Instead, she’d advise younger women to “sow your wild oats before you settle down — that’s a no-brainer.”

Read next: Who Needs Marriage? A Changing Institution

Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com and Diane Tsai at diane.tsai@time.com.

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