Evolution – Open Marriage, Swinging, & Polyamory


I’ve been feeling like the open marriage slash swinging slash polyamory folk are more alike than they’ve led me to believe. Each seems to have a slight attitude about why they shouldn’t be considered the other, or why they’re better. Because, after all, polyamory isn’t about (disdainfully said) sex, it’s about love… And open marriage is just cheating with rules… And swingers are just old sex crazed perverts… And so on, and so forth…

(Well, I may be sex crazed, and I may be a pervert, but I am NOT old. So that’s settled.)

But seriously, within our little niches, we’re awfully suspicious and distrusting of the others. And we all sit on our lawn chairs or hippie blankets or swing sets on the side of the fence we supposedly share in the open-relationship community and snipe.

In my time as a swinger who trends towards both open marriage and polyamory, I’ve seen a shocking amount of closed-mindedness from a group paying lip-service to the idea of being open and free. And I think it’s precisely this bizarre internal warring that is keeping us superglued on the fringe of normalcy (read: crazy), instead of gradually evolving into a more and more accepted place within a society that is slowly opening up to differing ideals and perspectives.

Every time a poly disparages a swinger, or a swinger disparages an open marriage true believer everybody loses because we feed the vanilla majority (like that? it’s like the moral majority) more ammo than they deserve or would have otherwise.

Now, let me be clear, my assertion about this infighting is all about generalizations and the desire to not only segregate ourselves but segregate those we don’t quite understand. I submit to you, however, that these three subgroups are far more alike than different and would even ultimately call them all iterations of the SAME subculture. (Yes, I loved Jurassic Park, so sue me…and to those who GOT that…one finger pointed at my nose, one at you, too.)

The believers in traditional open marriage who go on dates with others without their spouses are but a stone’s throw away from the swingers who sleep with others as a couple, who are only marginally different from the polyamorous, who just so happen to add the (forbidden in the first two iterations) element of love to the proceedings. And somewhere between the open-marriage folk and the swingers are those who seek out threesomes.

To put myself and Marilyn out as an example of my point: we identify as swingers, yet we’ve both gone on solo dates with people, at the same time we care deeply about the couples we’ve grown close to, and are in the discussion period of adding a third to our relationship. All three iterations: one marriage. So, are we the aberration? The unique case that disproves the rule? Or, as I suspect, are we more along the lines of the truly-open-actually-more-flexible-than-we-usually-give-ourselves-credit-for?

In Tristan Taormino‘s fantastic Opening Up she (and some polyamorists) discuss a fear that plagues most in the open relationship lifestyles. What happens if my wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/lover/etc. falls in love with someone else?

Well, as questions go, it’s a big ‘un, isn’t it? For many swingers, it’s the “WARNING: BRIDGE OUT!” sign in the road that causes them to go back to a life of (attempted) monogamy. Because it means your bond has failed, right?

I argue that it means no such thing.

Our critics ask how we can share intimacy with our spouse, as well as the hordes of others they’re sure we’re fucking at the same time. Our little dance is to (for us intellectuals, at least) remind them that the Starvation Economy Theory (one must lose for another to gain) doesn’t apply to intimacy, because being intimate with two (or three, or 12) people doesn’t mean they have to split some quantifiable supply of intimacy. (Can I come over and borrow a cup of intimacy?)

Nor does the Starvation Economy Theory apply to love. You don’t love a first child any less when you have a second, after all. (You don’t love them less, right? We just have dogs, by the way. Children confuse and frighten me; but that’s another article for another time.)

Taormino‘s answer to the question is an option: 1) You immediately cut off contact with the one who the feelings have developed with and focus on “saving” your primary relationship. (Which may or may not be in danger.) 2) You dissolve the relationship you’re in because one person can’t have this thing that they need. OR 3) you could see the potential for evolution and discuss whether your relationship can sustain the evolution into a triad, or foursome, or moresome, where love and sex is a shared commodity with an infinite supply (as I believe it is!)

“Get a job, you dirty hippy!”

Will someone please remove my father from the chamber! And make him stop shaking his fist!

True, what I’ve just suggested slides about as far into polyamory as you’re liable to get, but my suggestion is sound. After all, why are we swingers? Because the conditioned monogamous relationship and marriage definitions that have been riding around the world for 2000 years have conditioned us in some ways. But AS swingers, don’t we see that sex with others isn’t part of the black-and-white storyline we’ve always been told it was. (BAD! It’s bad, you’re bad! WHORES and SLUTS are all of us.) So, upon rejecting this tradition, why are we then closing ourselves off to the rejection of other beliefs and traditions that are really only there because they’ve been instilled upon us?

Do we REALLY believe that there is one love for us? Do we really believe there’s one cock or pussy to fuck for the rest of our life? No, hell no we don’t. So why the hell should we believe any of the other preconceptions we’ve been taught and programmed with?

Is it possible that every hiccup in this wacky road could instead lead to the evolution of your relationship, and you ought to be at least open to the idea of going along for that ride?

And is it possible that maybe, just maybe, you should call all three of those iterations one thing…open-lifestyle?


About Author


About Cooper Cooper S. Beckett is the co-founder and host of Life on the Swingset: The Podcast since 2010, author of swinging & polyamory novels A Life Less Monogamous and Approaching The Swingularity, and memoir My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory. He teaches and speaks on swinging, polyamory, pegging, play parties, and coloring outside the boundaries of your sexuality. He is a graphic & web designer, photographer, and voice over artist, has been a guest expert on Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast, & is the announcer of Tristan Taormino’s radio show Sex Out Loud. He is currently working on two instructional non-fiction books, one about beginning non-monogamy, and another about pegging.


  1. Avatar

    I've long held that the particular incarnations of nonmonogamy are best understood as a single large community, because at some level each person (or couple/group) involved has made a conscious decision to write their own relationship rules. As such, I've felt that I'd be no happier "shoehorned" into any of the aforementioned labels than if I were pushed by default into monogamy.

    I am distressed at the sometimes strong dissention between these groups (particularly polyamorists' common disdain for swingers), because I feel we should be all working together for the common goal of not having to be concerned about societal ostracizaion for not conforming to the "accepted" relationship mold. I also find it interesting, although not particularly encouraging, that the GLBT movement centered itself so strongly on the pinnings of monogamy to demonstrate their "normalcy" that we receive little to no support from them in trying to win acceptance for nonmonogamous lifestyles, though many practicioners of nonmonogamy overlap into the GLBT realm.

    Thanks for a well-stated article, one of many on the site! Keep it up!

  2. Avatar

    Thanks for the thoughts, Jamie.

    I've also noticed that the GL group also seems to have a good deal of disdain for the bisexuals as a whole, when they'd also be better served working together.

    There seems to be a lot of "my non-monogamy" is better than yours in our lifestyles, and I think that definitely has to end!

    Stick around Jamie, I hope to hear more from you!

  3. Avatar

    Great article and I couldnt agree with you more. My wife and I opened our marriage about 2 years ago, and feel like we are navigating in the dark since what we want and who we are does not fit 100% into the swing realm, nor the poly realm. So we have met some great people and had a few great experiences, but have had alot of bumbling and judging from both camps which has led us astray many times. Im glad we just found your podcast and that someone out there is speaking up for the non-categorized open marriage people out there. I mean, can't we just all get along?

    • Avatar

      I'm so happy to hear that after 2 years of aimless navigation you're still at it. I've noticed that a lot of my ideas of what open marriage can and should be don't fit into what SWINGERS define it as, and even less into what the POLYAMORISTS define it as. The big secret that none of the big three camps are willing to admit is that once you get closer to the line, it's almost impossible to define the label. Much the same way that the moment you're fantasizing about sex with a same sex individual, you can't any longer consider yourself straight. You're at the VERY LEAST bi-curious.

      We are all people on different iterations of the same journey, and that journey needs all the support from other community members as possible, simply because we won't get any help from the vanillas!

  4. Avatar

    It's FABULOUS to hear your thoughts on this subject, which is terribly close to my heart and other places of interest 😉

    I, too have always maintained that these three subsets are inextricably linked and that there SHOULD be more of a communal acceptance of each of the related chosen paths, regardless of what we've decided and designed for ourselves. I have stated on my blog a few times that "we are the architects of our own relationships," and that includes everyone (or at least should – theoretically) but most especially those of us that have chosen to embark upon alternative lifestyles such as the swinger, poly or open lifestyles. And after all, we are all practitioners of non-monogamy, and most of us would report that we do so openly, responsibly and ethically.

    I believe that if all of us folk who are responsibly non-monogamous banded together instead of sitting on opposing sides being snarky about other people's non-mono choices (one's that are not too far off from their own) we'd bring much more credible awareness to our lifestyle, bringing it that much closer to acceptance as a lifestyle that one day will trend toward normalcy.

    Great to find you, I will be back!


  5. Avatar

    Wow! Perfect timing to come across your post and this site! I have been thinking for a long time about how I feel about monogamy and it's relationship to… reality, and while I am not sure what 'label' I would attach to myself, I am not that concerned about it either. I don't need to choose one or another at this point, and, part of me feels that, in a sense, it's pointless. Life, and my sexuality, is more fluid than that, so, as I need to, I will shift and redefine. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I am going to pass this on to someone that had a question for me on my blog, to get them thinking (they asked some things publicly, and some privately). I have recently addressed some of the issues that I have thought of in opening up your relationship to another, but, I am keen for feedback if anyone else has anything to add. The original question and response is listed, along with a link to the visual follow up – some things to keep in mind as you are exploring opening up your relationship, illustrated by some sensual pictures (NSFW, for sure!). The original question was about a couple wanting to experiment with another girl (big surprise, I know!). Thanks again!

    Original question and response http://mtlamoureuse.tumblr.com/post/670599757/how

    Here's where the visual commentary begins… it's fun, you might enjoy it! (yes, there's nudity, but, it's not stereotypical porn for the most part) http://mtlamoureuse.tumblr.com/post/676400863/int

  6. Avatar

    Really great post! I agree on most of your ideas but thought I would just give my two cents on why I, as someone who identifies myself as poly, think that swinging is the wrong approach. To me it's all about where it is coming from, polyamory (to me) is about openness and accepting/celebrating everyones differences, it's about acknowledge that love increases when you love, and that happiness follows the same pattern. This gives that poly covers anyone who believes that there are other ways to do relationships then monogamy no matter if a specific couple only have sex with other definied relationship units or if someone believes that there are other ways to love then to have relationships. This also leads to swinging being a subcategory to poly as I see it, but the swinging community is today too stuck in the monogamous world (and also the heterosexual world), often to a point where their values are incompatible with the values of openness and laissez-faire of the poly community.
    I try to accept and respect everybodies ideas but I also expect to get the same in return.

    P.S. I do not in anyway believe that all swingers are strict monogamous and anti-gay, it's just what I've seen of swingers in general during my poly-activism.

    • Avatar

      I very much appreciate your comments and would argue that both of us are saying essentially the same thing, and are just getting hung up on labels. But I would say that the very comment that you think swinging is the wrong approach is part of what I was saying in my article. I would also ask that you expand on your comment about swinging stuck in the monogamous world, as the way I see it, monogamy and swinging are about as diametrically opposite as you can get.

      I will agree whole heartedly that by and large swingers as a community are not accepting of gay or bi males, and I find that to be hypocritical based on how accepting and nurturing they are of gay and bi girls, but I think that's something that will slowly start changing as society moves towards acceptance of bi males. (Even most vanillas would find two girls kissing okay these days.) I'm not sure what you mean by the laissez-faireness of the poly community.

      I won't apologize for swingers, because I won't pretend to represent them. (And they likely wouldn't claim me by and large given my views on poly, open marriage, love, bisexuality, etc etc etc…) But, I would love to continue this dialog…

      • Avatar

        About swinging being stuck in the monogamous world:
        In swinging the basis is always the couple, sure you are allowed to do things with others but it is always with your partners direct approval and as I've understood it's often an important part that your partner enjoys it (voyeurism etc.). I've also understood that if a couple breaks up they are generally out of the "scene" at least until they have new partners. What all this boils down too is that you have the focus more on the (monogamous) couple than on actually being open and not requiring things of your relationship that closes it down. As I see it swinging is about as far from monogamy you can get while still being monogamous, but not much more than that. Swingers live their life as monogamous and sometimes have a weekend off, for polys and people in open relationships it's their life.

        • Avatar

          I'd say while that may be, in general, true, you're missing the reasons why. Being open isn't just about going around and fucking whomever you're into. Swinging, for us at least, is about sharing a lifestyle with our primary. Marilyn and I have both been on individual dates, and have picked people up that we're interested in, but yes, our partners approval is important because we feel it's important to include them. I don't think polys are any more open simply because they don't seek their primaries approval. But hands down, the word monogamy needs to be removed from this discussion, as it's generally defined as: The practice or condition of having a single sexual partner during a period of time. Regardless of varying opinions about what swingers do, we're in no way monogamous.

          The other thing I think it's important to point out is that its impossible to boil down the entire group of swingers the way many try to, just as it's impossible to suggest the general "feelings of the poly community" and why I suggest that our community is so varied and different that the only real common element is that we seek to express ourselves sexually in the margins of conventional monogamy. We've seen a number of couples in the lifestyle who continued to swing after they'd broken up. We are, and know a number of couples who aren't all about the voyeuristic opportunity of swinging, and some that downright do not want to see their partner with someone else.

        • Avatar

          I would love to hear a response from you regarding Cooper’s response about your preferred interpretation about the differences between how you choose to identify as polyamorous versus how you choose to view those who identify as swingers. In particular, I’m curious to hear your further comments on how swinging is so much more like monogamy than non-monogamy. Did you change your perceptions after Cooper’s response or are you still firmly entrenched that swinging is as close to monogamy as one can get with the occasional weekends off?

  7. Avatar

    I suppose that I would fit under the label of cuckold. I find my satisfaction is knowing my wife is happy fucking other men/women. Of course I don't go without benefits. I get to watch her fuck and be used, suck her lovers, and sometimes I get fucked by her lovers. It works for us and has for ten years now. I crave the humilation and she craves the pure sexual lust of being able to do what she wants. There is no way she could be happy just fucking one dick or eating one pussy the rest of her life. Variety is the spice for us.

    • Avatar

      that's awesome that not only have you discovered and admitted your fetishes to yourself, but you've found others interested and enthusiastic about indulging them. What a wonderful thing it is to have your desires realized.

  8. Avatar

    I have nothing to add, other than my compliment at writing a great post.

    I could not agree with your tact that the three communities are more alike than dissimilar. But as 1/2 of a couple new to poly, and having been a couple involved with swinging for the most of the decade, do you see the walls starting to crumble. As more and more embrace ethical non-monogamy, in whatever fashion that suits them, do you see a mollification of the "them vs us", "holier than though" attitude.

    I'd be curious on your thoughts.

    • Avatar

      I'd be inclined to say yes, that we will all start to "band together" but judging from how the way the gay and lesbian communities often treat the bisexuals, who are VERY close to them, who knows…

  9. Avatar
    Irena Rowley on

    Great post! I'm new to the world of non-monogamy, and my bf and I fall somewhere in between the categories. We're open to everything from one-time sexual encounters, either together or separately, to starting a long-term relationship (also either together or separately.) The rules are honesty, openness, and commitment to promoting each other's happiness. As I've gotten more immersed in the community, it's been weird to me to hear other people drawing sharp lines between the different approaches to nonmonogamy, sometimes with hostility, and I'm glad to read such a (to me) sensible approach.

    • Avatar

      It's got a lot to do with people desiring to find "identity" instead of recognizing that my interpretation of non-monogamy is different than others, but that's perfectly alright, as long as i'm not demanding they do something they're uncomfortable with.

  10. Avatar

    We must be in the minority because as swingers, we have an open attitude towards all different groups. Why should our type of play or how we choose to develop our relationships with others be at the top of some list while others are then automatically beneath us? While we choose not to treat our play partners with what many people would describe as love, we nevertheless have deep feelings for our friends.

    We have poly friends and and also friends whose sexual and relationship desires don't appeal to us; they are entitled to their wants and passions because if we attempt to judge and discriminate are we no different than some political groups who chastise us for our lifestyle choices (and are often hypocritical, at that!)?

    • Avatar

      100% agreed, Rover. If you want to be treated with respect for your beliefs and opinions, you have to respect others…you know, until they label you and try to take away your rights…then balls out fury!

  11. Avatar

    Sexual morality is about health and reproduction. With 500 times as many people dead of AIDS as all the Americans who died in Vietnam, it's irrational and potentially harmful to others to do anything that might risk you getting it and spreading around to all your friends unless you're trying to have children with a consenting adult informed of the risks involved which is something that has potentially limitless benefit to the human race making the potential payoff worth the risk and should be admired and supported like any act of selfless heroism despite its inherent risk. Everything else is pretty much a matter of mutual agreements for our own personal values.

    • Avatar

      I'm not 100% sure, but it sounds like you're saying you should only have sex when you're making a baby? Is that right?

      I do agree that everything else is a matter of mutual agreements for our own personal values…but I'm not sure what your first point is.

    • Avatar

      Jim, We understand your concern about STDs.

      We (and all our friends) undergo regular screenings. I am looking at the results of my latest tests and am clean as a whistle (A little high on the cholesterol, must be because of the barbecues).

      When was the last time you got tested?

  12. Avatar

    People are judgmental due to fear and projection. Sexuality is so fluid, I'm just delighted when someone is in touch with their sexuality, whatever flavor. I get tested 4x year, just got tested 2 weeks ago. I love my primary partner and non-monogamy! Thanks for this great post. Group hug!

    • Avatar

      I completely agree with you TBK; and yet, it raises my ire when a supposedly open-minded, loving person dares to cast judgmental on another open, non-monogamy related group like swingers JUST because they don’t want to be labeled as such or even considered similar. Did we not learn anything from the way lesbians and gays treat bisexuals? Or how the monogamist treat non-monogamists? The answer is no, apparently not. Though I should not allow myself to become jaded over one or two commenters…. it just makes me sad.

  13. Avatar

    I've been in the lifestyle as single guy and then later as a couple, and then back in a a single guy. swung around the block a time or two.

    while seeing my partner with a another guy/girl/group is fantastic. knowing that she is in a relationship would be to much.
    i can handle the jealous feelings that do come up in swinging, either as a single guy or part of a couple. poly is not something that I do not desire or believe i could handle. a man's got to know his limitations.

    do what makes you happy as a couple and know what yourself and your partner can handle.

  14. Avatar

    A very interesting article. My partner & I are VERY new to all this and I have found the article/posts on this page (and others) extremely enlightening. I feel that the biggest hurdle many people face when deciding to enter an open-lifestyle is differentiating between Love and Sex. I think it's the biggest problem most Vanillas face too. "Vanilla", a new terminology that I've learnt from this site – I just love it!

    One must not loose sight of the fact that Love, in it's purest form, is exactly that, pure. Ego gets in the way of Love. Ask yourself this question – Can I not see my partner Loving another because I truely Love him/her or, is it because I want to feel that there is a part of them that belongs only to me? It is our own short-comings as humans that taint Love with possession, jealousy and selfishness. There are no different types of Love. Love is unconditional, Love is selfless, Love sets you free. When filled with Love, there is no fear of loss. There is only acceptance of what is. For this reason, alone, there is no reason why one cannot Love more than one person. It is egotistical to think otherwise.

  15. Avatar

    In addition to my earlier comment – couldn't fit it all in. I tend to ramble.

    If people were more Loving there would be more tolerance between different groups. Accept people for their differences and Love them for it – that includes me accepting and Loving people who can't accept and Love me inspite of the lifestyle I have chosen. Happy swinging!

  16. Avatar

    Interesting article… What's ironic is after reading this, I finished talking to a polyamory woman that jumped down my throat for not having the need to meet my husbands lovers. The words "better" and "illusion" came into the conversation and all I could say was "to each his own". I'm starting to realize that the three differ only in the level of insecurity one has with their own partner and/or themselves.

  17. Avatar

    I’ve been hurt very badly by a couple that espouses “polyamory”. From my pt of view, they just want alot of “new” sex. As soon as they find their third…it isn’t long until they move onto the next  and the next and the next. I don’t get it. 

Leave A Reply