Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Poly, swinging, open, or...?

There are plenty of misconceptions in the "vanilla" world about WIITWD (what it is that we do) in the BDSM/kink community. One of those misconceptions is that everyone is a sex fiend and sleeping with everyone else willy-nilly.


Now, not to say some people don't do that, but as with all populations, there will always be exceptions to the rule.

There are terms tossed around without people seeming to understand what they mean. So let me take a moment for clarification.

When someone says they are "poly," meaning polyamorous, it doesn't necessarily mean they are swingers or have an open marriage.

When someone says they're a "swinger," it doesn't mean they're poly or have an open relationship.

When someone says they have an "open relationship," it doesn't mean they're a swinger or poly.

Or it could mean any or only some of all of the above apply.

The terms are not mutually exclusive, but while sometimes, yes, some people do consider themselves under more than one umbrella, I'm going to discuss the basic differences in them. YMMV.

"Poly" generally means there are established rules or codes of conduct. There isn't any sneaking around behind the other partners' backs. Everyone is on board with what happens. This might mean a "closed" poly group of three or more people, yes, like the menages you read about in fiction, or it might mean one person has more than one partner, but they are committed partners, either permanently or "monogamously" within the confines of the poly group.

For example, in my life, I am in a poly "N" configuration. I am married to Hubby, Sir is married to His wife. Only Sir and I are involved with each other (hence the diagonal on the N), although sometimes Sir and Hubby both top me. The four of us are monogamous within our "pack" as we like to call it. (As in wolf pack.) Occasionally, I will top a male friend of Sir's for play only, but when I do it's usually in an instructional way to show the friend's wife how to use implements.

We are not swingers. We are not "swappers." We are not "open." My primary relationship is Hubby, Sir's primary relationship is His wife. Sir and I are secondary partners to each other.

Poly configurations and rules are as varied as the people in the relationships. We are just one small example of how it can be done.

Swingers are commonly members of clubs or groups (but NO, NOT always) of fellow swingers. They get together for parties or whatnot and have fun as they desire. Not everyone gets lucky at swingers events. People might or might not "swing" outside of their primary relationship on other occasions. Some people only do it within the context of an event or gathering, some have regular partners they swing with.

An "open" relationship is one where members are free, within certain boundaries usually, to seek out other relationships. Sometimes just for sex or fun, sometimes for secondary relationships. Again, it depends on the people.

As I said, these can cross-pollinate (no pun intended, seriously LOL). People can be more than one label. These are just generalities.

Then you have people who consider themselves monogamous, but they might have BDSM playpartners with any level of sexual-type play. To the novice, it might look like sex. But the participants might not consider it sex (for example, orgasm play) and consider themselves monogamous.

Hope that helped clarify things and didn't muddy the water for you. :)

So what are your thoughts on polyamory, swinging, and open relationships?

(Tymber Dalton is a bestselling erotic romance author involved in a poly-N dynamic and is a BDSM switch. You can find her Siren-BookStrand releases HERE, and her website is http://tymberdalton.com)


  1. My thoughts on this are each to their own. It takes alot of trust and love to share. :)

  2. Thanks for those explanations. I have to admit I've never written any of these types of relationships because I wasn't sure precisely what the difference was and I hate writing about stuff I don't understand.

  3. Informative as always, Tymber :-) I find poly relationships utterly fascinating. Would never work for hubby and I irl, but to each their own.

    And they're fun to write about ;-)

  4. I would like to have the kinda relationships you have,but I dont think my husband would like it. I have hinted to him I would be interested in exploring that kind of relationship. We just started tryingind BDSM. I really like it. I just wish he could be more dominent. We are high school sweathearts and have been married 23yrs. We were 19 when we married. Reading erotic books has open a whole new world to me that I want to explore. Any thoughts on getting my husband to to explore this new world with me? I have him read parts of books I am reading to let him know that this is what I want or would like to do. Thanks for the info.

  5. I would like to have the kind of relationship you have with sir and his wife. I dont think my husband would like it. I have tried to hint around about it. We just started trying BDSM. I love it. I just wish he was more domiment. We have tried with him being the sub,but it did nothing for either of us. I started reading erotic romance books and it has open a whole new world to me. I havent read 50 Shades of Grey yet. I think a menage trois sounds like fun. At least in all the books it does. I have had my husband read parts of books that I would like to do or try. Sometimes it works. We are high school sweathearts. We were married when I was 18 and he was 19. Not because I was pregnant,just because we wanted to. We have been married 23yrs. Thanks for the ifo. Maybe someday I will get him to try new things.

  6. Great Article Tymber! I always have to explain that the S in BDSM does not stand for sex! There are a lot of kinky relationships that have no sex :)

    I loved your definitions and explanations - they are perfectly described to help others! Master and I are open to a closed poly group, but it is hard work finding the right person to connect with.

    Thanks for the awesome article!


  7. Great post. I did not know what Poly-N meant so this was great. I think that this post shows that there are no right or wrong relationships. As long as every person is honest and satisfied in the relationship, it is good. And it is no one outside the relationship's business. Thanks for the great article :)

  8. Once again very informative, Tymber, Thankyou. AS to what I think about the relationships you describe.... as previously stated each their own. I would think it would take everyone being highly considerate of everyone's needs and I am not necessarily talking just sex, relationships are much more than that, although it is a good part! If everyday you all are happy, content, fulfilled what anyone else thinks does not matter.

  9. I've been up close and personal with many of these types of relationships for years, having had many friends over the years involved in an array of those entanglements. It has gotten personal for me though this year as I have found myself in love with a polyamorous man. It's not an easy thing, but there is much I like about it as well and I am determined to learn to navigate it with maturity and integrity... even if it kills me in the process! lol I appreciated your definitions Tymber very much! :)

  10. I have been in the BDSM community for nearly 20 years now and have been in all of the various types of relationships. I think how you explained it was very well done. I have had several over the years ask me, "What's the difference?" I am currently in a poly relationship although we have not found the right partners to fill out our "family". I congratulate you on being able to find yours.

  11. I was a playmate to a husband and wife, and it turned serious and intense fast. We were considering ways to make it more committed... But living where we do left us no options. What would you call that? A committed threesome, with one not legally committed? Closed poly? We also played with other women too. Men, we tried, but we all preferred to just keep to adding a woman to our play once in a while. We were monogamous with each other in love, but not always in sex.