This month, we anonymously interviewed a few members of our community on non-traditional relationships. As your local sexual health and wellness clinic, it’s important to us to respect and accept all relationship types and help you to stay healthy, safe, and happy on our end. Take a look below to see what your neighbors have to say about non-traditional relationships!
What’s the difference between open, poly, and swingers?
Respondent 1: I think that the difference between the three comes down to the individuals in the relationship. Essentially they are all open partnerships, but the key difference is that what works for some in an Open Relationship may not work for all in an Open Relationship. To try and boil these lifestyle choices to a set of rules and general differences is turning them back of what they are the opposite of: monogamous relationships where there is a clear set of Dos and Don’ts.
Respondent 2: An open relationship is when you have multiple sexual partners, but your heart belongs to one and no emotional connections exists with the other partners. A Poly relationship is when you have multiple emotionally committed partners loving each partner. Swinger relationships involve couples being sexually involved with other couples.
Respondent 3: To me, being open is about having one partner but still being able to have sex with other people. Being poly is more about having multiple consistent partners. Swinging is exchanging partners with another couple for adult play time.
Can you share a bit about your relationship structure and how it differs from more traditional models?
Respondent 1: My poly relationship has very few rules; I encourage my partners to find someone who loves them just as much, if not more, than I do.
Respondent 2: I’ve been in a long-term relationship of over 30 years. My heart belongs to one and I’m attracted to many. 🙂
Respondent 3: I’m the hinge in a V meaning I have two partners who aren’t boyfriends with each other, but they are both my boyfriends. We’re very close and all spend time together. We do also have sex with other people and other couples, so I guess we are open, poly, and swingers.
What led you to choose a polyamorous/open/swinging lifestyle? was it a mutual decision or something that evolved over time?
Respondent 1: It was something that evolved over time. I was always trying to figure out how I could be in a relationship and still maintain the other ones I have, both platonic and intimate. I met two individuals that are in a 12-year poly relationship and I saw how it worked for them and knew that this was the relationship style for me.
Respondent 2: Sexuality and sexual expression are both a constructive and performative morality to society’s expectation of the norm. As an old school dyke, I reject and disregard the confines of sexual expressive expectation of the norm. My sexual expression is framed with the individuals that I am attracted to…no apologies.
Respondent 3: I think during one of my longer relationships a few years ago, I realized that staying monogamous was not possible for me. I had already been talking to a few guys that I genuinely cared about so very early in the relationship that I let him know I wanted us to be open. He agreed because he loved me and wanted me to be happy, but it wasn’t long before the accusations of infidelity came even though I was always honest and communicative. Luckily, my new partners are more than understanding of the lifestyle.
How do you navigate communication and consent within your relationship(s)?
Respondent 1: Communicate, that’s the key. If there is something on your mind, good or bad, you have to communicate. Because the truth is, for me, I don’t have every single possible scenario thought out, so I hope I select partners who are willing to have these open discussions.
Respondent 2: Respect and trust yourself first. Feel comfortable discussing and sharing your needs and boundaries.
Respondent 3: We just speak our minds. There’s no need for secrets. We just do what feels right and what feels good and talk about it.
What challenges have you faced and how do you address them within your non-traditional relationship?
Respondent 1: Jealously, on both ends. I have tried to have an open discussion with him (we are no longer together), and the results of the conversation were fine, but there was no follow-through on his end.
Respondent 2: Learning to trust yourself and your partner(s). Especially with discussing your needs and boundaries.
Respondent 3: I’ve been with my oldest partner 2 years now and we’ve never really had problems navigating the relationship. More trouble with splitting up chores around the house.
Are there any misconceptions about your relationship structure that you’d like to clarify or dispel?
Respondent 1: No, because if you want to assume, that’s on you. But I am open to any questions someone may have about my relationship.
Respondent 2: None.
Respondent 3: Some people think we’re having sex non-stop and that’s not true at all. Sometimes it can be weeks between sexual acts. It’s all about the love and shared hobbies. We probably talk about gaming and music and food more often than we bring up other men.
How do you handle jealously or insecurities within your relationship(s)? Can you describe any positive experiences or benefits you’ve gained from your non-traditional relationship?
Respondent 1: I don’t feel guilty for having a connection with someone else. Regardless of where it might lead, it’s the reality that I’m not ‘cheating’ on anyone by having a connection with someone else.
Respondent 2: Prefer not to answer.
Respondent 3: Sometimes one of my partners does get jealous of all the attention I get. I just have to make sure I give my partner as much love and attention as I can and that he feels comfortable being able to play with whoever he wants when he wants.
How do you handle societal judgements or stigmas that may arise due to your relationship choices?
Respondent 1: I could care less, lol. Society has a lot more to be worried about than how many men I have in my circle lol.
Respondent 2: I am a DYKE; my existence and my visibility IS a revolution against societal norms. How do I handle societal judgements and stigma? I don’t…I PUSH through them with a vengeance.
Respondent 3: F**k ’em. They ain’t paying my bills. I’m too blessed to be stressed.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering exploring a non-traditional relationship model?
Respondent 1: Be free and be honest with yourself more than anyone else. Knowing how you want to be loved is very important. Most relationships are like trial and error. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake and pick yourself up.
Respondent 2: Love yourself first.
Respondent 3: Make sure you love yourself first. No one else can make you feel good about yourself. Also, never try to force a situation. If you fall in love, great, but I can’t tell you how many corny dudes ask me if we’re looking for a fourth just because they like the idea of being poly even if they don’t know any of us well. It comes off weird to me, but maybe that’s me being defensive, lol.
Are there any resources, books, or communities that have been particularly helpful in supporting your relationship choices?
Respondent 1: I talk with my friends, but I have no resources for others.
Respondent 2: If it doesn’t seem right, if it doesn’t taste right…it is probably not right. Trust yourself. Your strength and pride come from within.
Respondent 3: Not sure; I don’t read.
For more information on polyamory and non-traditional relationships, click here. No matter what type of relationship style you prefer, your choices are valid and we’re here to support your sexual health and overall wellness however we can. Stay safe, sexy, and empowered through communication and visiting the ASHwell Clinic if you need PrEP, PEP, or a screening.