Open marriage styles
Couples in open marriages may prefer different kinds of extramarital relationships. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing love and emotional involvement have a polyamorous style of open marriage. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing sexual gratification and recreational friendships have a swinging style of open marriage. These distinctions may depend on psychological factors such as sociosexuality and may contribute to the formation of separate polyamory and swinging communities. Despite their distinctions, however, all open marriages share common issues: the lack of social acceptance, the need to maintain the relationship as a couple, and the need to manage jealous rivalry.
Polyamory vs swinging
Extramarital relationships vary in terms of the degree of sexual involvement desired and the degree of emotional involvement desired. Variation in the degree of sexual and emotional involvement desired typically reflects variation in the motives for participating in extramarital relationships. These variations provide a basis for distinguishing polyamory and swinging. Polyamory is motivated by a desire to expand love by developing emotionally involved relationships with extramarital partners. Swinging is motivated by a desire for physical gratification by engaging in sexual activities with extramarital partners.
The distinction between polyamory and swinging has recently started to appear in academic publications:
- "Gould also devoted a chapter to polyamory, a relatively new concept in the social scientific literature. Whereas swingers concentrate on the sexual aspects of their encounters, polyamorists are prone to focus on the emotional ties in their multiple sexual relationships. Polyamory, Gould writes, originated in Oneida with John Humphrey Noyes and his belief in Perfectionism. Noyes believed fervently that romantic love was selfish love. He advocated a system of complex marriage, a system where everyone in their community was married to everyone else. There is debate within the polyamory community as to whether they should be mentioned in the same context as swingers. Some 'polys' are swingers, others are not. Here Gould draws the distinction between utopian and recreational swingers. The former are seen as more revolutionary in that they want to change the norms relating to marriage; the latter have no such intent. Polys are compared to the utopian swingers." (Jenks, 2001, page 172)
- "These ambiguities can be avoided to some extent (albeit at the price of venturing into less normative territory), by comparing the relationships of polyamorous couples to the relationships of couples into the swinging lifestyle. Both types of relationships involve sexual interactions with people outside of the dyad, but they differ in the emotional component of the interactions. Specifically, the extra-dyadic relationships of polyamorous couples often include both sexual and emotional components (Constantine & Constantine, 1971; Knapp, 1976; Rust, 1996), whereas the extra-dyadic relationships of swinging couples typically include only a sexual component (Denfield & Gordon, 1970; Fang, 1976; but see Symonds’, 1971, discussion of utopian swingers and Varni’s, 1974, discussion of interpersonal and communal swingers)." (Sagarin, 2005, page 74)
- "Note that the difference between polyamory and swinging is that in polyamory there is a focus on love and the emotional relationship with other lovers, whereas swinging is often recreational sex, with an explicit intention to avoid an emotional connection." (Cook, 2005, page 10)
- "Rubin (2001) reviewed this literature and noted—within a discussion of swinging—that a new term demonstrated the presence of lifestyles involving 'group sex' (p. 721): polyamory. According to Rubin, polyamory focuses more on emotional aspects of relationship and family as compared with the recreational sex characterized by swinging." (Keener, 2004, page 3)
The same distinction has also appeared in newspapers and magazine articles. For example:
- "Unlike the swingers community, polyamorists aren't in it for the sex, they say, they're in it for the love." (Epstein, 2004)
- "Polyamory is not promiscuous superficial, unthinking irresponsible sex. Polyamory is not swinging. In my mind swinging is a perfectly responsible choice when neither party is coerced. But when swingers agree that they won't develop loving relationships with the people they swing with, swingers aren't polyamorous. When swingers do develop lasting, loving friendship with their swing partners I would say that what they're doing is indistinguishable from polyamory." (White, 2004)
The distinction has even gained some acceptance among Web sites devoted to polyamory and swinging. The polyamory Web sites prefer the terms "polyamory" and "swinging", as illustrated by these examples:
- "In any case, polyamory is about stable intimate, emotionally committed relationships rather than casual sex. Swinging is defined as recreational sexual activity, also called 'sport sex' where partner(s) or participant(s) agree to have casual sex with each other(s). There is usually no emotional involvement. Swingers generally practice recreational sex activities without the development of love, affection or personal intimacy. With polyamory, there is no such restriction, and the intent is to allow such emotional intimacy to exist, develop, and grow between the people involved." (PolyamorySociety.Org)
- "There is a major distinction to be made between what is called 'Swinging' and Polyamory. In swinging, the intent is to engage in non-monogamous sexual behavior without the development of love, affection or personal intimacy between oneself and the secondary partners. Swingers generally seek to engage in recreational sex without emotional intimacy. With polyamory, there is no such restriction, and the intent is to allow such emotional intimacy to exist, develop, and grow between the people involved." (Polyamory.Com)
The swinging Web sites prefer Gould's terms of "utopic" and "recreational swingers".
- "There are two types of swingers, the recreational swingers and the utopian swingers. The recreational swingers view swinging as a social activity, much like playing tennis or golf, or going out to the movies. Although they may make emotional attachments and friendships through swinging, they might do the same thing golfing but find swinging more pleasurable. Utopian swingers are swinging because they believe that marriage is inherently oppressive due to its dependence on a lack of freedom and the existence of control over one's partner. They do not wish for either their partner or for themselves to experience this type of oppression. Therefore, although they may have made a lifetime commitment to their partner (or they may not have due to their sociopolitical analysis), they want to allow their relationship to be as free as possible. Swinging is one way to make a relationship less restrictive and oppressive." (SelectSwingers.Org)
- "It is generally felt that you can divide swingers into two groups. Those who participate for recreational sex only and those who participate for utopian reasons. Recreational swingers see swinging as a social activity, much like bowling and playing tennis and cards. Utopian swingers have a general philosophy of sharing not only sex, but all other aspects of life with their fellow participants." (CloudNine)
The distinction between polyamory and swinging has started to gain a reasonable amount of acceptance, finding its way into academic literature, popular media, and Web sites devoted to polyamory and swinging.
The distinction between polyamory and swinging applies to open marriages. A polyamorous style of open marriage emphasizes the expansion of loving relationships by developing emotional attachments to extramarital partners. A swinging style of open marriage emphasizes physical gratification by engaging in recreational sex with extramarital partners.
The preference for a polyamorous versus a swinging style of open marriage may depend on many psychological factors. One factor may be sociosexuality. Sociosexuality refers to an individual's willingness to engage in sexual behavior without having emotional ties to the sex partner. Individuals who are very willing to engage in sexual behavior without emotional ties are said to have unrestricted sociosexuality. Individuals who are very unwilling to engage in sexual behavior without emotional ties are said to have restricted sociosexuality. Individuals can vary along a continuum from unrestricted to restricted sociosexuality.
Couples with different styles of open marriage tend to self-segregate in order to find others who share similar philosophies and interests. This has likely contributed to the development of separate polyamory and swinging communities.
The polyamory community is better suited for couples who prefer a polyamorous style of open marriage. The swinging community is better suited for couples who prefer a swinging style of open marriage. However, some couples may not have a strong preference for either style of open marriage. These couples may feel equally at home in both the Polyamory community and the Swinging community. The partners within a couple may also differ in their preferences. One partner may prefer a polyamorous style of open marriage and participate in the Polyamory community, while the other partner may prefer a swinging style of open marriage and participate in the swinging community. Variations in couple preferences and individual preferences thus result in a certain amount of overlap between the polyamory and swinging communities.
Finally, it should be pointed out that couples may have open marriages without participating in either the polyamory community or the swinging community.
- Sprenkle, D.H., & Weis, D.L. (1978). Extramarital Sexuality: Implications for Marital Therapists. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 4:279–291.
- Jenks, R. (2001). The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers, by Terry Gould. Journal of Sex Research, 38, pp. 171–173.
- Sagarin, B.J. (2005). Reconsidering evolved sex differences in jealousy: Comment on Harris (2003). Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9, pp. 62–75.
- Cook, E. (2005). Commitment in polyamorous relationships. A research project presented in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Psychology, Regis, University. Retrieved July 16, 2006, from http://www.aphroweb.net/papers/thesis/index.htm.
- Keener, M.C. (2004) Phenomenology of polyamorous persons. A thesis submitted to the faculty of The University of Utah in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science, Department of Educational Psychology, The University of Utah. Retrieved July 16, 2006, from http://www.xmission.com/~mkeener/thesis.pdf.
- Epstein, R.J. (2004). Whole lotta love:'Polyamorists' go beyond monogamy. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sep 13, 2004. Retrieved July 16, 2006, from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4196/is_20040913/ai_n15332654.
- White, V. (2004). A Humanist looks at polyamory. Humanist, Nov–Dec, 2004. Retrieved July 16, 2006 from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1374/is_6_64/ai_n9532076.
- PolyamorySociety.Org. Retrieved July 16, 2006, from http://www.polyamorysociety.org/page16.html.
- Polyamory.Com. Retrieved July 16, 2006, from http://www.polyamory.com.
- Gould, T. (1999). The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers. Canada: Vintage Books.
- SelectSwingers.Org (2003). Why do couples swing? Retrieved July 19, 2006 from http://www.selectswingers.org/why_couples_swing_.html.
- CloudNine (2006). What is swinging? Retrieved July 19, 2006 from http://www.cloud9social.com/swinging.html.
- Ostovich, J.M., & Sabini, J. (2004). How are sociosexuality, sex drive, and lifetime number of sexual partners related? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, pp. 1255–1266.