Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When Polyamory Looks Like Swinging but Isn't

The difference between swinging and polyamory is one of the first questions polyfolk are asked by people who are unfamiliar with polyamory. Recently a subscriber to a yahoogroup we are both on wrote me privately. He and his wife are still working on defining polyamory for themselves and their life. He wrote to me in an attempt to clear up confusion about why another subscriber's frequent reports of having sex with a potential partner the first time they meet qualifies as polyamory. To him and his wife it looks like their idea of swinging.

I can understand why he is confused. There are a fair number of poly people who begin their poly relationships with sexual interactions. These tend to be people who are very sex positive and have no problem with being sexual for fun with someone new. I've even heard some say that they like to know up front whether there is sexual compatibility before taking the relationship further.

OTOH, some of us (myself included) prefer to get to know potential partners a bit before we become sexual with them. I'm very sensitive to people's energy and have learned that I don't feel good about being sexually intimate with someone only to find out later that there is something about their character or personality that turns me off. At this point in my life I favor sexual experiences that are heart-centered. It's possible for that to happen on a first date, but for me usually not.

I imagine the sex-first fellow would say that he does get to know his potential partners, who he usually travels to see, by e-mail and phone before they are sexual. Regardless, I've come to recognize and accept that some prefer to handle the sexual aspects sooner and some later. Those who prefer sooner differ from swingers in that they are specifically interested in developing a long-term, romantic, bonded relationship with their new partners, where swinging is a couple-centric activity that rarely leaves room for an ongoing emotionally intimate relationship. Most (but not all) swingers are sexually non-monogamous and emotionally monogamous. They tend to focus on the sex as a source of recreation and pleasure, and for them that's where it all stops, except perhaps that they may develop friendships and even platonic familial relationships with their swing partners.

Lest I offend any swingers with this description, I'm on record as someone who is very supportive of swinging as a valid choice. Occasionally swingers will also embrace polyamory, and vice versa. It's all good.


primadiana said...

it would have been nice if you added a posting to more styles of Poly-type relationships.
Ours do not fit in to the ones we see posted for the most part. And I question if we are even Poly at all..
We are married with kids, but are not open to our kids or family about our open marriage. We have come out to close open-minded friends (which are few!)
We have lovers on the side. Some have been long term and some are relatively new. But they have their own lives and their lives do not interfer or co-mingle with ours.
This part is for our own personal fun or growth. As a couple we have a female that plays with us occassionally. So as a couple we have grown more affectionate and at ease or open with each other. We can talk about things that monogamous couples feel that they cannot discuss. Fearing of rejection or humiliation.
So what category do we fit into? And is there others like us out there?

Anita Wagner said...

Oh yes, there are definitely others out there like you. Poly people tend to emphasize having committed long-term sexual loving relationships with others. To the extent that your other relationships fit that description, you are poly people. It's more about the emotions than how much you share in each other's lives. If you care about your lovers and consider their happiness important to your own, again, that's polyamory.

Open and honest non-monogamy, which includes swinging and polyamory, is really a continuum, with, as an example, purely recreational one night stands without an emotional connection at one end and polyfidelitious relationships, i.e. loving, long-term, committed, closed relationships, i.e. multi-partner relationships closed to adding other partners or having sexual flings, on the other. It's interesting how different the relationships really are that are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Everything else is definitely gray area.