by Dr Stacy Friedman, World Association of Sex Coaches Certified Sex Coach
There are different aspects to alternative lifestyles that many people don’t know about or may not understand. Polyamory and swinging are two examples of different lifestyles that people may choose to be involved in successfully. These are both types of “open” relationships, which are thought to be similar and can be related, but there are very distinct differences between them.
The primary emphasis 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. Some polyamorous people will swing and some swingers have polyamorous relationships. No wonder there is confusion about them – sexuality in relationships can change and be fluid!
In the USA, it is estimated that there are around 1.2 to 2.4 million people that actually try sexual non-monogamy. These millions include poly couples, swinging couples, gay male couples, and other sexually non-monogamous couples. Because of the social stigma of alternative lifestyles, people may call themselves monogamous to avoid any backlash or judgment from others, so the actual number of sexually non-monogamous couples is probably much higher.
The word “polyamory” is derived from the root words ”poly”, meaning “many”, and “amor”, meaning “love”, hence the meaning “many loves”. Since love is has an ambiguous definition, in terms of polyamory, it can mean more of a serious relationship or emotional connection with more than one person, or an affectionate, intimate bond with multiple people. It is about loving more than one person at the same time, where all partners are aware of this intentional non-monogamy. Although polyamory usually involves a sexual relationship, there are many types of love, and sex doesn’t always have to be a factor.
People that are polyamorous believe that you can love more than one person just like you can love more than one child. Just because you love more than one child, it doesn’t make the love for the other one any less, so this is the thought process on how it is possible to be polyamorous. Usually the most successful polyamorous relationships are where each couple has a strong bond independently as well as between each other and then they bring that trust and stability to new relationships with the other people.
A swinger is someone that lives an uninhibited lifestyle by having sex with others. You can be a member of a married couple who exchange sexual partners for pleasure and be considered a swinger. There are many aspects to swinging, but the main difference from polyamory is that swinging usually centers around recreational sex and fun and is not necessarily about love. An example is a couple that goes to swing clubs or house parties and has sex with other couples. In these situations, couples may have rules and agreements about what they can and cannot do with others.
You can develop loving and affectionate bonds with the people that you swing with, but it is more about a strong friendship and the commonality of being open minded that allows this bond to develop. Falling in love in a swinging relationship is generally frowned upon, unless you are with a partner who is open to being polyamorous. This is why the majority of swingers compartmentalize sex and feelings, so they can more easily stay committed to their own partners.
With either type of open relationship, the most important considerations are trust, honesty and open communication. Without those basic components, polyamorous or swinging relationships can be difficult to navigate. They are not lifestyles that you use to have an excuse to “cheat” on your partner or to create an opportunity to find someone better. They should be used to allow yourself and your partner to be open, express yourselves in the most honest way possible and to allow the love to grow and thrive between those involved, especially when it starts with you, as a couple, first.