Alternatives to Monogamy, Part 1
Traditionally, falling in love with one person and choosing to live out your life with that person is the ideal. Get married, settle down, spend your lives together. And for a lot of people, it works just like that, and that’s all they ever want.
But when we take a closer look, we see that this ideal maybe isn’t as fairy-tale perfect as we think. Statistics are complicated and hard to sort through, but it appears that over a third of people in committed relationships admit to infidelity at least once during that relationship. The divorce rate is falling, and divorce statistics are complicated, but approximately a quarter to a third of marriages eventually end in divorce (not the much-touted 50%).
So, is monogamy the be-all and end-all of human existence? Or are we fooling ourselves by thinking we’re meant to be with just one person for the rest of our lives?
This is not to discount the number of people who are in stable, happy marriages. For some people, they meet their one true love and never look back.
Just as monogamy works well in many cases, it works very poorly in others. But a marriage or partnership doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If both partners are willing, they may be interested in exploring alternatives to traditional monogamy.
Swinging is a practice or lifestyle in which a committed couple meets up with and has some form of sexual contact with another committed couple. There are variations galore that can fall under the heading of swinging. Some couples actually “date” other couples and swap partners for sexual relations. Others attend swing parties, where they can meet other singles or couples interested in a casual sexual encounter, enjoy themselves, and then part ways. There are websites to facilitate these meetups, and there are even clubs dedicated to giving space to people interested in exploring this lifestyle.
Swinging can be a great option for a couple looking to spice up their sex lives by introducing new elements, including new people. Perhaps one or the other has a fantasy involving watching their partner have sex with someone else, or maybe they have mismatched sex drives and adding swinging to their repertoire helps to satisfy the partner with the higher drive, or maybe they just want to try a threesome or foursome or full-on orgy.
If you decide to try swinging, make sure you have a frank conversation about your boundaries and what you’re looking for. Practice safe sex. Many of us in long-term monogamous relationships aren’t used to having to worry about sexually transmitted infections or other consequences of sexual activity anymore, but once you start having sex with new people, condoms are must.
An open relationship implies that each partner has “permission” to have sex with other people without bringing those people into the relationship. So, for example, if John is on a business trip and meets an interesting person with whom he’d like to have sex, it’s okay with John’s significant other if he indulges that desire. This differs from swinging in that the couple isn’t participating in the sexual activity together in some way, but rather it happens outside their marriage or partnership. A couple may choose to explore this if one or both travels often, or if one partner has a greater sex drive than the other, or if one or both partners is interested in sexual experimentation or sexual activity that the other is not.
Again, communication is vital. Talk about the possibility of an open relationship before any outside sexual activity occurs. Discuss what each partner is and is not comfortable with and respect those boundaries. Typically, you would share with your partner that you met someone you want to have sex with, or that you had sex with someone and what that was like (in as much or as little detail as you want). And, as above, once you start having sex with people outside your previously-monogamous relationship, practice safe sex.
There are many variations on polyamory, but typically polyamory refers to being in loving relationships with more than one person at the same time. This may occur where a couple dates another couple and all four people involved love each other. Or, it may involve a couple dating a single person together; this is usually referred to as a triad. Or, it may be more of a web of relationships, in which Sally is dating both John and Charlotte, while Charlotte is also in love with Patrick, and John is seeing Kelly, while Kelly is seeing someone else, too, and Patrick has another lover as well, and so on. It usually doesn’t get quite that complex, but the core of polyamory is the belief — and agreement among all involved— that individuals can love and be in love with more than one person simultaneously.
Polyamory differs from both swinging and open relationships because the emotional element is as important as the sexual element. Polyamory is about building relationships with others, not just casual sexual encounters.
As always, safe sex rules.
In the next article, I’ll discuss some of the issues that may arise in any of the above lifestyles, such as boundaries, rules, cheating, and jealousy. Stay tuned!