Our editors received the following question through our contacting form:
What is actually the difference between swinging and polyamory?
Well, dear M., that is not so easy to explain. There are similarities and differences. The short answer is that they’re two different things, but the long answer … we’re going to do our best, below.
Polyamory has as its philosophy or premise that you can be simultaneously in love or have a romantic relationship with more than one person. Swinging is a form of non-monogamous sexual behavior in which both partners, engage in recreational sexual activity with others, with each other’s consent and in each other’s presence. So on the face of it, polyamory is about love and swinging is about sex. But it may be a little more complex than that.
Swingers often have a monogamous basis as a relationship. They allow themselves, with each other’s knowledge, to be unfaithful. It is usually not threatening to the emotional relationship they have with their regular partner, because swinging is about sex as recreation. In polyamory, if done properly, each relationship is self-contained. One relationship is not more important than another.
An open relationship
Both polyamory and swinging could be categorized under the umbrella of “open relationship” or ethical non-monogamy. In both cases there is an openness about what you do and with whom. In this, polyamory and swinging are distinguished from monogamy and from cheating. But besides polyamory and swinging, there are many other types of open relationship
The infographic above was created by Franklin Veaux (you can also view it in its entirety). What the graphic clearly shows is that there are very many types of open relationship and that there is also overlap. In poly and swinging, according to this infographic, there is not always mutual exclusivity. Some poly followers are in a relationship with a fuckbuddy (friend with benefits). In that case, they have an exclusive relationship with their regular partner, but “the other person” is there just for fun. And sometimes swingers also have a kind of fixed arrangement with another couple. In short, it’s not all so black and white.
Similarly, a poly couple may both have different interpretations of it. For example: Henk and Anita are a married couple. In addition to Henk, Anita also has relationships with two other men, but those relationships are exclusive. That is, they have no other relationships besides this one. But Henk is in a network of polyamorists. He is in a relationship with two other people, who in turn are also in a relationship with several people. Also among swingers you see that everyone has a different interpretation of this.
We humans have a need to put things in a box. It makes life orderly and it also makes it easier to start a conversation. It’s like putting chicken on the menu. Everyone knows what chicken is, but there are thousands of ways to prepare chicken. Will we soon have chicken legs, chicken satay, smoked chicken breast, drumsticks, chicken burgers, chicken on the spit, … How is it prepared, what nutrients and allergens does the dish contain, is anyone allergic to chicken? In short, that there is chicken on the menu is a start of the discussion, but certainly not the end. So when someone says “I’m polyamorous,” that’s an opening to a conversation about how to interpret that.