There are so many different kinds of Open Relationships.
Polyamory. Swingers. Soft swap. Threesomes. Foursomes. Group Sex. Polygyny. Polyandry. Polyfidelity. Non-monogamy.
I’m talking about consensual non-monogamy here, NOT having sex with someone other than the partner you are monogamous with (i.e. cheating). So what are all those words I wrote up above? Here is some general information (keep in mind that these might vary depending on the person or couple):
Polyamory – Literally multiple loves. People who identify as polyamorous might have a “main” partner called a primary while still being “free” to date and have other partners. Often, for poly people the focus is on relationships rather than having multiple sex partners.
Swingers - When you think swingers, do you have an image of the 70s? There was a tv show called “Swingtown” back in the summer of 2008. Where swingers differ from people who are polyamorous is that swingers often have “no strings attached” sex. They aren’t looking to date. They aren’t necessarily looking for people to add on to their current relationship.
Within swingers there are varying levels of “freedom.” [Note: I'm not implying that the opposite of freedom is ownership; swingers are not generally 24/7 Dominant/submissive or slave relationships where ownership might be more literal.] Many couples who are swingers have rules. There are two broad categories: soft swap and hard swap. For the most part, soft swap means that a couple might engage with a third person or another couple and do everything up to but not including penis in vagina (PV) penetration; kissing, petting, oral sex would be perfectly acceptable (with some variation). Hard swap couples generally would do all the things soft swap would, while including PV. I have to point out that I have heard of couples who identify as hard swap swingers who are fine with PV but not ok with kissing people other than their partner. To each their own. As long as everything is open and there is plenty of communication so that everyone involved is on the same page.
Threesomes/Foursomes/Group Sex – These groupings are mostly sexual which isn’t to suggest that people who engage in threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes don’t also have a relationship aspect to the sex they have. They can go hand in hand.
Polygamy – a marriage of more than two people.
Polygyny – a marriage with one man and multiple women (and there is no pairing between the wives). Practiced in many ancient (and not-so-ancient) religions.
Polyandry – a marriage with one woman and multiple men (and there is no pairing between the husbands). Practiced in some indigenous tribes.
Polyfidelity – also like a group marriage. Two (or more) married couples commit to being all together. If you watched the recent Showtime series Polyamory: Married and Dating you saw this. I’ll admit, it was a new idea to me, that actually makes plenty of sense.
All of what I talked about above are versions of open-relationships. There isn’t one way that is right or better or more valid. It can be difficult to think outside of the heterocentric, monogamous box that we as Westerners, particularly Americans, take for granted. There are many people who, by nature, do not fit into the role of monogamy, which is technically serial monogamy for most of us. The majority of monogamous people have had other partners in their lives… just one at a time.
Many of the people I have spoken to who are poly or in various forms of open-relationships tell me that they have so much love to give. They want to share it with others. They recognize that their partners do not belong to them. They see that they can’t or don’t need to be everything for one person; that there are other people who can fill certain roles in their partner’s life and they are not threatened by that.
I hope my readers don’t think I am advocating for non-monogamy. Not at all! Monogamy is also a valid lifestyle. But how often do we usually think that there are other kinds of relationships? In today’s modern, “civilized” society, monogamy is our default setting. How do we know that that’s what we’re “supposed” to do? Open-relationships and non-monogamy are NOT ways to save a troubled marriage. This will only exacerbate the issues that the couple is experiencing. Non-monogamy could be a way to enhance an already strong, trusting relationship that has phenomenal communication.
Keep in mind that non-monogamy and open-relationships are on a spectrum. It could be occasional and not on-going. It could be as small and simple as being just a little bit more flirtatious with your server at a restaurant. The sexy and desirable feelings [NRE, or New Relationship Energy] you experience from sticking your toe out of the box just a smidgen can be channeled back into your relationship.
Even if you don’t go out and do anything, I encourage you to think about it. Talk to your partner. What do they think? How might you flex the boundaries of your relationship? Keep communication open and honest and don’t guilt your partner or feel any shame about what emotions might come up as you think about non-monogamy.