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People in the open lifestyle are barraged with a lot of misconceptions about us and our relationships. Here are five big ones.
I am not sure another topic exists that is more misunderstood than that of ethical non-monogamy. I know, that’s a big statement, but bear with me. Polyamory has gained some acceptance and traction more recently — my theory is because it fits the “love is love” narrative of the LGBTQ+ movement. Swinging, I would say, is still at the bottom of the list because, “it’s just sex,” or at least that’s what people think, and in our puritanical, monogamous culture, that is simply not OK.
We have real feelings, not just lusty ones
Many of my vanilla friends know that my husband and I are in the lifestyle and accept it to some degree, don’t care, or are fascinated, but I’m talking about general society. One challenge is that we don’t have a flag. What I mean by that is we don’t have a unified message, and just like all of the other groups, we have in-group arguing. Polyamorous folks have “opinions” about swingers, and vice versa. If push came to shove, we would all defend one another in the name of sexual freedom (we can talk bad about us but you, the outsider, cannot talk bad about us), but no one has pushed or shoved hard enough to make us do that yet. What I do know is that I am a little frightened of the flag we would come up with — it’s a group that likes to push boundaries, shall we say. I jest.
We are a mature people with rights and feelings (real ones, not just lusty ones) and while most of us are just trying to figure out our own way in a non-monogamous world when this isn’t what we were raised to be a part of — let’s just say there is a lot of re-programming going on over here — we are also barraged with a lot of misconceptions about us and our relationships. We might even have our own misconceptions when we start our investigations and ‘toe-dips’ into these worlds. Open-relationshipping does require an open mind and a willingness to change it. So, here are five big misconceptions about the open lifestyle:
1. It’s just for sex
Well, yes, and no, and maybe. Yes, because that’s often a big reason for people considering ethical non-monogamy (ENM): sexual variety, varied sexual interests and partners, and / or sexual adventure. No, because it’s not usually JUST sex. Polyamorous folks are in for full-on romantic relationships, so this is not the case for them. Even swingers, who might be the least ‘committed’ on the ENM spectrum (at least to others outside of their primary relationship) still love the connection and relationships — even if just friendships — that come from being in the lifestyle. I’m also including ‘maybe’ because, as always, every single person has their own motivations and desires and, while it hasn’t been my experience while being ENM, I can’t say this isn’t true for some people.
2. Key parties (swinger-specific misconception)
Somehow, this idea persists. Perhaps because it seems so outlandish? When we knew we were moving to Utah, almost every single person we told made a joke about multiple wives. Similarly, when swinging comes up in a vanilla group, the idea of a key party is often the next topic. My answers here are going to be ‘it’s not really a thing’ and ‘maybe.’ It’s not a thing that I’ve been aware of in five years of active swinger and ENM life. I haven’t been invited to one, heard about one, or threw one. However, I always include ‘maybe’ because if there are groups of people who are all active together and they all play (for anyone new here, play equals sex) with each other, then, why not? Even then, though, why not romp with the person you are jiving with that night? While certainly not regular, I’ll throw in a ‘probably’ because I’m just sure they’ve been done just so someone could say that they threw or attended one. We are a group with a sense of humor.
3. Anyone who is ENM is into counterculture
Um, no. Are there some counterculture and rebellious folks who do this because they buck ALL of the systems of patriarchy, religion, hetero-cis-normativity, etc.? Wait, those are bad examples because who doesn’t want to buck those things? I probably just answered the question for some of you right there. Anyway, yes, there are probably some rebellious types who rebel against anything mainstream. That’s not really my crowd, so I do know that we are not all like that. This reminds me of a bit in Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable where she says:
“It would help if more people came out… It’s not just actors and actresses. I mean, there are gay football players, there are gay baseball players, there are gay hockey players, there are gay doctors, lawyers. There are even gay hairdressers, you guys.”
Except, I’m going to go further. There are non-monogamous teachers, professors, nurses, business people (yes, capitalists), and even Trump supporters who are ENM. My point is it’s everyone, and it’s a very wide spectrum — you can’t pinpoint us in a crowd. Unless we are holding hands with or French kissing two (or three) different people, then maaaaybe. We don’t usually do that in a mainstream crowd, however, so you don’t have to worry. We know when it’s appropriate, and we don’t really like being judged any more than anyone else.
4. People who practice ENM must not be happy in their current relationship
I love this one because NOTHING could be further from correct. If we are talking about an existing couple that decides to go ENM (there are single people who are ENM), the exact opposite must be true for it to work. Only couples who are in very strong relationships should consider moving to non-monogamy. If they are doing it to fix anything in their relationship, then that is most likely a disastrous move. If they are doing it to save a failing relationship, that’s pretty much a recipe for fast-tracking that relationship’s demise. Are there people who get into it for the ‘wrong’ reasons and it ends up working out? I don’t know all ENM people, but I’m going to say that the chances are slim.
If you are then wondering why people do go ENM, I’ll give a simple answer here — they want to. It feels right to them, they value freedom, sexual variety, and adventure. They want to add to their current relationship, if they have one, not fix it. If they aren’t currently in a relationship or already in multiple, again, it’s because they want to. They like it. And that’s all the reason anyone needs.
5. People who are ENM must not experience jealousy, insecurity, or other feelings that others feel in relationships
Au contraire, people who are ENM are probably the most familiar with these feelings. In the healthiest of cases, the difference is that:
A. They are willing to feel these feelings. They know it’s not pleasant, and they know it goes with the territory. It’s a cost to the benefit of having extraordinary, open relationships. Most likely, ENM folks have ways they deal with these emotions. Spoiler: they don’t bottle them up or push them down.
B. They ask themselves, ‘what is causing this feeling in me?’ They use them to learn more about themselves. They don’t blame their partner for the feelings, even if their partner has done something that triggered the feelings. They also share these feelings WITH their partner(s), and it’s an opportunity to support your partner through it or even work through it with them. Emotional support is the reason that these relationships end up extraordinary (see What You Need to be Non-Monogamous).
I caveated with ‘in the healthiest of cases’ because every human has emotional flares where we lash out at our partners or others because we have pain. That is normal. Repair is also normal, and when you get good at repair, you get good at relationships. All of them.
What are your favorite misconceptions about the lifestyle?
I’ll call this a good start to misconceptions about swinging, the lifestyle, and ethical non-monogamy. There are plenty, and I anticipate many posts with more misconceptions. Feel free to leave some of your favorites in the comments below, and I’ll put them on the list!