The Different Types Of Open Relationships

Women's Dating

The Different Types of Open Relationships

Katie B.

Written by: Katie B.

Katie B.

Katie B. has a MPH in health promotion and has plans to complete a master's degree in marriage and family therapy. You can read more about Katie B's journey in an open relationship at

Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

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I use the term “open relationship” interchangeably with “ethical nonmonogamy,” and I use both terms as an umbrella for all relationship styles that are open, honest and consensual forms of nonmonogamy.

Some people think of an “open relationship” as an emotionally monogamous/sexually promiscuous one, but this is just one type of open relationship.

So under our umbrella of open relationship styles, we find labels like:

1. Partnered nonmonogamy.

Often, partnered individuals who practice this form have an emotionally monogamous/erotically promiscuous relationship.

The focus tends to be more on sexual variety and sexual relationships with other people, and other relationships tend to be casual and commitment-free.

2. Swinging.

Traditional swinging is very similar to partnered nonmonogamy, in that the focus tends to be on sexual variety and sexual relationships with other people.

However, the culture of swinging is very couple-centric. That is, most people you would meet at a swingers club are couples and many couples only “play” together (in the same room).

There are different kinds of swinging, from same-room sex to soft swap (everything but vaginal sex) to full swap (includes vaginal sex).

The community and culture is a large part of the swinging experience and are distinguishing factors from partnered nonmonogamy.

“All open relationships are unique because

different individuals need different things.”

3. Progressive swinging.

Progressive swinging is a newer term that describes swingers who are comfortable with, and sometimes prefer, some level of emotional intimacy with their other sexual partners.

Often, progressive swingers enjoy having friendships with their play partners and enjoy doing nonsexual activities outside of the bedroom in addition to sexual activities.

4. Polyamory.

This relationship supports multiple loving relationships. For many people practicing polyamory, emotional closeness with other partners is a priority.

Forms of polyamory include:

  • Hierarchical polyamory (having a primary relationship while other relationships are considered secondary).
  • Nonhierarchical polyamory (no one partner is more of a priority than the other).
  • Polyfidelity (a multiple primaries model. Here, three or more partners decide to be primaries with one another).

And, for some people in poly relationships, the relationship may consist of emotional, but not erotic, intimacy.

Other forms that would be included under this umbrella include solo polyamory and monogamous/polyamorous and monogamous/nonmonogamous combinations.

For further reading on all of these, I would highly recommend Tristan Taormino’s “Opening Up.”

What is not included under this umbrella?

Unethical forms of nonmonogamy — that means cheating.

Honesty and consent are the hallmarks of open and ethically nonmonogamous relationships.

And of course, all open relationships are unique because different individuals want and need different things. Different couples and groups of partners have different boundaries and agreements.

So while labels can be helpful in understanding big concepts, remember there is no one “right” way to have an open relationship.

Which type of open relationship best fits your needs?

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