The Difference Between Open Relationships, Polyamory and Swinging

Open Relationship Therapy » The Difference Between Open Relationships, Polyamory and Swinging

In my experience with ethical non-monogamy, both living the lifestyle and working as a professional relationship coach, I have learned that there is no one way to describe the term.  This can be both liberating and confusing.  Liberating because it gives everyone permission to actively create and recreate their relationships.  Confusing because people may have completely different meanings for the terms they use to describe the kind of relationship they are in.

Here are a few simple definitions of the most common practices of ethical non-monogamy:

Open Relationship

Partners who are in an established relationship with each other and openly agree to see other people.  They may do this together, separately, or a combination of both.  The connections they make outside of their relationship may or may not be romantic, sexual or emotionally involved.  It is common for couples to establish agreements on what they can and cannot do with other people.  These agreements will vary from couple to couple and may change over time, depending on the needs and desires of all parties involved.


I’ve heard polyamory defined as the practice of loving more than one person and the practice of loving in many ways.  What I love about polyamory is that it allows for everyone involved to be who they are and find healthy ways of being in a relationship with others.  Like open relationships, polyamory will take on the form of the people who choose this lifestyle.  Polyamory stands out from other forms of ethical non-monogamy in that polyamorous people are drawn to relationships that are emotionally involved (think “in love”).  People in poly relationships tend to view their relationships equally rather than assign labels like “primary” and “secondary”.


Swinging is a form of social sex. Singles and couples, called swingers, engage in different kinds of sexual sharing or swapping with each other.  The degree of intimacy and sexual involvement differs with every encounter and is determined by clear boundaries and agreements with all parties.  Swinging can be a great way to enhance sexual energy and connection in any relationship.  As with any form of ethical non-monogamy, open honest communication is essential.


Ethical non-monogamy is becoming more widespread.  The fact that people are talking more openly about their sexuality and sexual desires is incredibly exciting.  Just having the topic on the table, whether you act on it or not, is huge.  Relationships are hard work.  I think what makes them hard, and what often contributes to their demise, is a lack of openness around sexual expression.   If you are in a place where you feel stifled and you don’t know what to do next, please contact me.  I would love to be a part of the conversation that helps you get clear on what’s next for you and your relationships.

To learn more about my coaching technique and to see if working together is the best fit for you, contact me and schedule a Poly-Coach Session today!

About the Author

Laurie Ellington

I teach people how to break through false beliefs and negative behavior patterns. I offer my clients tools that empower their life and their relationships.