What’s the Difference Between Swinging and Polyamory?

What’s the difference between swinging and polyamory? 

This is a question that I hear a lot, both from therapists who attend my classes and talks and from clients who are interested in exploring consensual non-monogamy. 

On the face of it, swinging and polyam have a lot in common. They’re both forms of consensual non-monogamy, and there is certainly overlap between people who practice polyamory and swinging. 

However, there are a few key differences between swinging and polyamory, both in the assumptions participants generally make about the nature of their relationships, and in how each relationship style actually looks in the real world. I’ve laid out some of the differences below–with the disclaimer that these are all generalizations, and there are exceptions to every rule. 

  1. Polyamory is based on the assumption that partners may form multiple romantic attachments. This is the major difference between polyamory and most other forms of consensual non-monogamy. Polyamory (‘many loves’) by definition includes the option to engage in multiple romantic and sexual relationships, where “romantic” and “sexual” are defined by the participants. In other open relationship structures, including swinging, there is generally an agreement that it is okay to have multiple sexual connections, but not to fall in love. Swinging is generally considered to be purely sexual–although of course sometimes swinging partners develop strong romantic feelings, and sometimes this leads to the development of a polyamorous relationship. 
  2. Swinging tends to attract a more conservative people. On the whole, the swinging demographic tends to be more conservative, more heterosexual, and more gender-normative than the polyam demographic. Polyamory, on the other hand, has a huge overlap with the LGBTQ and kinky communities.
  3. Swinging is a couple pursuit. Swingers are generally couples who meet up with other couples, often at events.  Sometimes connections form that result in couples deciding to meet up outside of formalized swinging events. Swingers might engage in swinging once or twice a year, or every week, but it is generally an activity a couple engages in together. 

There are infinite ways to practice consensual non-monogamy. Everyone who is interested in exploring consensual non-monogamies has to find their own path and their own style. Swinging works very well for some people, polyamory is perfect for other, and still others prefer other forms of consensual non-monogamy. 

That’s part of why I believe it’s so important to be aware that there is a vast menu of options available. No two relationships are the same, and finding the right relationship style for you and your partner(s) requires creativity, insight, flexibility, and negotiation.