Open, Poly and Swinging relationships are all forms of Ethical Non-Monogamy otherwise known as ENM or CNM for ethical/consensual non-monogamy.
It is NOT cheating because all parties involved are aware of and consent to their partner(s) engaging in romantic, sexual or emotional connections outside of their relationship.
Think of ENM as the umbrella term for all forms of non-monogamy practiced by consent. With that said, non-monogamy does not always mean “sex” outside the relationship. You can have a romantic or emotional bond, sexual bond or a combination.
To explain this, there are three major sub-categories that are most commonly referenced:
- Polyamorous, Poly for short; and
So, what’s the difference?
Open Relationships typically involve a sexual component where partners in a committed marriage or relationship agree that they are open to engaging in sexual behaviours outside the relationship. Generally, this does not involve the forming of romantic or emotional bonds that are inherent in Poly. And, unlike Swinging, partners may have sex (commonly referred to as “play”) separate and apart from the other committed partner(s).
In Swinging, couples (or partners in committed relationships) engage in casual sex but only do so when together. They are not looking to form emotional bonds outside of their committed relationship. “Play” could be as casual as kissing and fondling, soft swapping which involves heavy petting up to and including oral sex or might “go all the way” to involve full penetration.
Polyamory is the practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual, loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. What sets Poly apart from swinging and open relationships is the ability to form emotional bonds. In addition, Poly relationships may or may not involve sex and may or may not involve playing apart from other person(s) in the committed relationship(s). Poly relationships come in many different forms and autonomy of person is held in high regard.
If you’re considering opening up your relationship or already have, remember first and foremost that every ENM relationship is negotiable. Each of the three dynamics above are interchangeable depending on the partner(s), situation, timing and more. You may find that what works in one relationship may not work in another. Or perhaps, you just need to take a break. Sometimes timing is off due to life circumstances. Just remember, which ever style you choose (or don’t), you have the right to change your mind on what works for you and making safe space for compassionate communication is key.
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